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Taliban ready to negotiate: Kabul minister
Kabul, Jan 27 (Agencies):
Published on 27 Jan. 2010 11:38 PM IST
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Afghanistan’s finance minister has raised the prospect of involving the Taliban across all strata of government, at both district and national level, as part of a plan for their reintegration and brokering peace. “Negotiations could begin as early as tomorrow if we have international backing,” he said. Before tomorrow’s opening of an international conference on Afghanistan in London that will address plans for an exit strategy for western forces, Omar Zakhilwal told the Financial Times he believed that the Taliban was ready to negotiate. “Even at this moment they do sense that it will be impossible for them to return to power.” A Taliban spokesperson, Zabiullah Mojahed, rejected claims that talks were under way. “There is no negotiation going on about reintegration plans or forming a political settlement,” he said. “I don’t think there will be any chance of negotiations until the foreign infidel troops leave our country.” But the finance minister’s comments did reflect a marked change of tack by commanders of western forces. General Stanley McChrystal, the Nato commander in Afghanistan, outlined this week how he envisaged the US-led military surge this year would lay the foundations for a negotiated peace with the Taliban and said he would urge his allies to renew their commitment to this strategy. Mr Zakhilwal said there were “really quite large numbers of people (Taliban) who have been coming to the government. With the right sort of assurances, credible assurances, you can immediately see some defections”. He said Pakistan, which was instrumental in the creation of the Taliban in the 1990s, would have to play an important role in bringing these about. Western forces have been on the back foot in the campaign against the Taliban. A suicide car bomber blew himself up near a US military base in Kabul yesterday, wounding six civilians, an Afghan security official said. But Mr Zakhilwal remains optimistic, and insisted that, while it will be difficult to work with the Taliban, “doing nothing on that front is not an option”. He is seeking backing at the conference for a reintegration plan that would cost between an estimated $200m (£124m) and $1bn. It would involve negotiating with the Taliban in a two-pronged approach, starting with the “lower ranks” who were fighting against international forces. “Not all of them are idolising the Taliban. Quite a large group of them have sided with the Taliban because they were forced to,” he said. Mr Zakhilwal suggested giving incentives to switch sides by offering jobs, land and protection. The “second prong”, the core of the Taliban’s leadership, could, he proposed, be involved at the level of a government minister or district councillor. But he stressed that there would not be a coalition with the Taliban and rejected criticism that suggested the government would be trying to “bribe” Taliban supporters to disarm. Mr Zakhilwal said the government had been approached several times by the Taliban since 2003 to form a settlement but it did not have the support of the west. “The cost of peace is many times lower than the cost of war. That is the argument we will present at the London conference,” he said. The finance minister also voiced hopes that Afghanistan could be more selfreliant in generating revenue over the next three to four years, with a renewed focus on building infrastructure, energy deals and agriculture development. But much of the government revenue is heavily reliant on international aid. He conceded that relations with the Obama administration had been fraught but said “when things go wrong, criticism and counter criticism” can be healthy.

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