The United States is holding talks with the Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday, in the first official confirmation of such contacts after nearly ten years of war.
Although diplomats and officials say the talks are at a very early stage, Karzai’s remarks highlight the increasing focus on finding a political settlement in Afghanistan as foreign combat troops prepare to pull out by 2014. “Talks with the Taliban have started… the talks are going on well,” Karzai said, addressing a conference in Kabul. “Also foreign forces, especially the US, are carrying out the talks themselves.”
Western officials acknowledge on condition of anonymity that attempts to set up contacts with the Taliban are at a very early stage, while efforts to open up a communication channel with Taliban leaders are still being made. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this year called on Taliban members to split from Al Qaeda, renounce violence and accept the constitution so they can be re-integrated into society.
And US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on a visit to Kabul this month that there could be talks with the Taliban by the end of the year if foreign troops make sufficient gains. A report last month in Der Spiegel magazine claimed Germany was helping to mediate secret, direct talks between the US and the Taliban on German soil while the New Yorker magazine reported in February that the US had begun direct discussions with senior Taliban figures.
America mum, Taliban deny
KABUL/WASHINGTON – The State Department on Saturday declined to say whether the United States was in talks with the Taliban, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced. It did however acknowledge a “broad range of contacts” in support of reconciliation efforts to help end a nearly decade-long war with the Taliban.
A State Department spokeswoman had “no comment” on Karzai’s statement Washington was in talks with the Taliban — the first official confirmation of such contacts. “However, we have consistently supported an Afghan-led process of reconciliation,” spokeswoman Megan Mattson told AFP. “Currently, we have a broad range of contacts across Afghanistan and the region, and at many levels, to support that effort.”
The US embassy in Kabul did not respond to a request for comment on the latest remarks from Karzai, who is known for dropping unscripted, headline-grabbing remarks into speeches. Meanwhile, militants have consistently rejected any efforts to talk peace in public statements.
“We have already said this and have repeated it many times. We have no negotiation with the US and we deny any report as such,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.