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Taliban representative in Japan for peace forum

world Updated: Jun 27, 2012 21:08 IST

AFP
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A Taliban representative on Wednesday joined an Afghan government official for a peace conference hosted by an elite university in Japan, an academic said.

In a rare joint appearance, Din Muhammad, a member of the Taliban's political council, was invited by the private Doshisha University to a "peace-building" forum, along with Masoom Stanekzai, internal security adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

They and other Afghans were in Japan to discuss what steps need to be taken to build peace and bring reconciliation in the war-torn nation, the forum's organiser said.

Masanori Naito, professor of Middle Eastern studies and migration studies at the university, said the aim had been to get all sides to the table.

"We brought opposing parties together to debate paths toward peace," he told AFP.

Muhammad's visit to Japan comes less than a week after Taliban fighters stormed a lakeside hotel near Kabul, killing 18 people in a 12-hour standoff with the security forces.

The attack highlighted the instability in the country ahead of the 2014 departure of NATO combat troops, who have been fighting a more than decade-long insurgency that erupted after the US-led invasion in 2001.

Japan has never had a combat role in Afghanistan, but has been involved in reconstruction and is a major donor. The war registers little on the public radar, consequently, the visit by a Taliban figure is unlikely to cause political ripples.

A spokesman for the foreign ministry said "proper procedures" had been followed before the issuance of Muhammad's visa.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the militants had sent Muhammad to Japan for the event.

The militia said this year that it had suspended contacts with American officials in Qatar in a row over a prisoner swap.

But Muhammad told Japanese media that the Taliban would resume talks if Washington fulfills its promises, including on a prisoner exchange.

"The problem is not on our side. The problem is actually on their side," Muhammad, who was a cabinet minister in Afghanistan's former Taliban government, told Kyodo, adding he had flown in from Qatar.

In a separate interview with NHK, he called for the total withdrawal of US forces and said it would be unacceptable for any American troops to remain in the country after the combat mission ends in 2014.

"The Taliban does not permit deployment of any foreign troops and it will only adversely affect peace," he was quoted as saying.