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Talking to the Taliban

world Updated: Jan 26, 2010 00:51 IST
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The leader of the United Nations mission here called on Afghan officials to seek the removal of some senior Taliban leaders from the United Nations’ list of terrorists, as a first step toward opening direct negotiations with the insurgent group.

In an interview, Kai Eide, the United Nations special representative, also implored the American military to speed its review of the roughly 750 detainees in its military prisons here — another principal grievance of Taliban leaders. Until recently, the Americans were holding those prisoners at a makeshift detention centre at Bagram Air Base and refusing to release their names.

Together, Eide said he hoped that the two steps would eventually open the way to face-to-face talks between Afghan officials and Taliban leaders, many of whom are hiding in Pakistan. The two sides have been at an impasse for years over almost every fundamental issue, including the issue of talking itself.

“If you want relevant results, then you have to talk to the relevant person in authority,” Eide said. “I think the time has come to do it.”

In recent days, Afghan and American officials have signaled their willingness to take some steps that might ultimately lead to direct negotiations, including striking the names of some Taliban leaders from the terrorist list, as Eide is suggesting.

The remarks by Eide were the latest in a series of Afghan and Western efforts to engage the Taliban movement with diplomatic and political means, even as a new American-led military effort was under way here.

American, Afghan and NATO leaders are also preparing to start an ambitious program to persuade rank-and-file Taliban fighters to give up in exchange for schooling and jobs. The plan aims at the bottom of the Taliban hierarchy — the foot soldiers who are widely perceived as mostly poor, illiterate, and susceptible to promises of money and jobs.

Eide, who will leave his post in March, said that such efforts at reintegration would be useful but not enough. “I don’t believe it’s as simple as saying that these are people who are unemployed, and if we find them employment they will go our way,” Eide said. “Reintegration by itself is not enough.”