KABUL, 16-02-2012— President Hamid Karzai said Wednesday in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that his representatives had begun talks with the Taliban and the American government, a potentially significant development suggesting that the Taliban were dropping longstanding objections to face-to-face discussions with the Afghan government. A member of the Afghan High Peace Council also described the recent Afghan government contacts to The New York Times this week and said that there had been an agreement with Taliban representatives to go ahead with peace talks in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, but there was no date yet for meetings. Mr. Karzai said that “there have been contacts between the U.S. government and the Taliban, there have been contacts between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and there have been some contacts that we have made, all of us together, including the Taliban.” The High Peace Council member, Haji Musa Hotak, said that “some talks have been started with the Taliban.” “There is willingness among the Taliban, they spoke with their leadership and got them to agree to talks in Qatar with the Afghan government,” Mr. Hotak said. He added that there was no date set for future meetings and that it was “too early to say what the Taliban want.” Taliban spokesmen could not be immediately reached to confirm whether any meetings had already been held. Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the United States National Security Council, declined to comment on Mr. Karzai’s disclosure, but has made clear in the past that there are a multitude of steps necessary before real peace negotiations could begin. There is also deep distrust of the Taliban within the Afghan government and even more in the wider Afghan population, including in the north and west of the country, where many people who fought the Taliban hold considerable power. Nonetheless, the mere possibility that the Taliban would entertain continuing direct talks with the Afghan government is significant. In the past, the Taliban have described Mr. Karzai as a “puppet leader” and the Afghan government as a “puppet government.” Since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, they have insisted they are the rightful Afghan government. In the last year, they have insisted on face-to-face talks with the Americans rather than with the Afghan government. If they continue to talk directly to the Afghan government, it would suggest an admission that the Afghan government is legitimate. It also begins to get key players needed to start discussions in the same room, but the obstacles to real breakthroughs remain formidable. Pakistan is also needed for talks since the country hosts the Taliban and has allowed their fighters to live there, raise money and train. Mr. Karzai told The Wall Street Journal that he would be asking for Pakistan’s help at a meeting on Thursday with the Pakistani and Iranian presidents in Islamabad, Pakistan. Any substantive talks would require concessions by both sides, and for those Mr. Karzai would need full support from the Americans because they have control over key bargaining chips that he would need to offer to the Taliban as measures to create trust and later to persuade them to stop fighting. Among the confidence-building measures that the Americans have discussed with the Taliban is the transfer of Taliban detainees from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. While such concessions might be possible, they are politically delicate for President Obama’s administration in an election year.
[The New York Times]