By Aamir Latif, IOL Correspondent
ISLAMABAD – The emboldened Taliban movement in Afghanistan turned down an American offer of power-sharing in exchange for accepting the presence of foreign troops, Afghan government sources confirmed.
Mullah Zaeef, a former envoy to Pakistan, reportedly represented the Taliban side in the recent talks.
“US negotiators had offered the Taliban leadership through Mullah Wakil Ahmed Mutawakkil (former Taliban foreign minister) that if they accept the presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan, they would be given the governorship of six provinces in the south and northeast,” a senior Afghan Foreign Ministry official told IslamOnline.net requesting anonymity for not being authorized to talk about the sensitive issue with the media.
He said the talks, brokered by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, continued for weeks at different locations including the Afghan capital Kabul.
Saudi Arabia, along with Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, were the only states to recognize the Taliban regime which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
Turkish Prime Minister Reccap Erodgan has reportedly been active in brokering talks between the two sides.
His emissaries are in contact with Hizb-e-Islami (of former prime minister Gulbadin Hikmatyar) too because he is an important factor in northeastern Afghanistan.”
A Taliban spokesman admitted indirect talks with the US.
“Yes, there were some indirect talks, but they did not work,” Yousaf Ahmedi, the Taliban spokesman in southern Afghanistan, told IOL from an unknown location via satellite phone.
“There are some people who are conveying each others’ (Taliban and US) messages. But there were no direct talks between us and America,” he explained.
Afghan and Taliban sources said Mutawakkil and Mullah Mohammad Zaeef, a former envoy to Pakistan who had taken part in previous talks, represented the Taliban side in the recent talks.
The US Embassy in Kabul denied any such talks.
“No, we are not holding any talks with Taliban,” embassy spokeswoman Cathaline Haydan told IOL from Kabul.
Asked whether the US has offered any power-sharing formula to Taliban, she said she was not aware of any such offer.
“I don’t know about any specific talks and the case you are reporting is not true.”
Provinces for Bases
Source say that for the first time the American negotiators did not insist on the “minus-Mullah Omer” formula, which had been the main hurdle in previous talks between the two sides.
The Americans reportedly offered Taliban a form of power-sharing in return for accepting the presence of foreign troops.
“America wants 8 army and air force bases in different parts of Afghanistan in order to tackle the possible regrouping of Al-Qaeda network,” the senior official said.
He named the possible hosts of the bases as Mazar-e-Sharif and Badakshan in north, Kandahar in south, Kabul, Herat in west, Jalalabad in northeast and Ghazni and Faryab in central Afghanistan.
In exchange, the US offered Taliban the governorship of the southern provinces of Kandahar, Zabul, Hilmand and Orazgan as well as the northeastern provinces of Nooristan and Kunar.
These provinces are the epicenter of resistance against the US-led foreign forces and are considered the strongholds of Taliban.
Orazgan and Hilmand are the home provinces of Taliban Supreme Commander Mullah Omer and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
“But Taliban did not agree on that,” said the senior official.
“Their demand was that America must give a deadline for its pull out if it wants negotiations to go on.”
Ahmedi, the Taliban spokesman in southern Afghanistan, confirmed their principal position.
“Our point of view is very clear that until and unless foreign forces do not leave Afghanistan, no talks will turn out to be successful.”
The ruling Taliban were ousted by the United States, which invaded Afghanistan shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Since then, the Taliban have engaged in protracted guerrilla warfare against the US-led foreign troops and the Karzai government.