Taliban representatives and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai have begun secret, high-level talks over a negotiated end to the war, according to Afghan and Arab sources.
The talks follow inconclusive meetings, hosted by Saudi Arabia, that ended more than a year ago. While emphasising the preliminary nature of the current discussions, the sources said that for the first time they believe that Taliban representatives are fully authorised to speak for the Quetta Shura, the Afghan Taliban organisation based in Pakistan, and its leader, Mohammad Omar.
“They are very, very serious about finding a way out,” one source close to the talks said of the Taliban.
Although Omar’s representatives have long publicly insisted that negotiations were impossible until all foreign troops withdraw sources said the Quetta Shura has begun to talk about an agreement that would include participation of some Taliban figures in the government and the withdrawal of US and NATO troops on an agreed timeline.
The leadership knows “they are going to be sidelined”, the source said. “They know that more radical elements are being promoted within their rank and file outside their control... All these things are making them absolutely sure that, regardless of the war, they are not in a winning position.”
Several sources said the discussions with the Quetta Shura do not include representatives of the Haqqani group, a separately led faction that US intelligence considers particularly brutal and that has been the target of recently escalated US drone attacks.
Reports of the talks come amid what Afghan, Arab and European sources said they see as a distinct change of heart by the Obama administration toward full backing of negotiations.
Although President Obama and his national security team have long said the war would not be won by military means alone, sources said the administration only recently appeared open to talks, while the US’ European partners in Afghanistan, under far stronger domestic pressure to withdraw troops, have always been more amenable to a settlement.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, told reporters last week that high-level Taliban leaders had “sought to reach out” to the top level of the Karzai government. “This is how you end these kinds of insurgencies,” he said.
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