Asia & Australia

Afghan Taliban Divided on Peace Talks

09/10/2008

By  Aamir Latif, IOL Correspondent

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Mutawakkil reportedly represents a faction in Taliban that favors talks with the Karzai regime.

PESHAWAR — The resurgent Taliban stands divided on the idea of a peaceful settlement with the US-backed government of Hamid Karzai, according to insiders and intelligence sources.“Taliban has no interest in any settlement or talks with the US or its agent in Afghanistan,” Maulvi Zabihullah, a Taliban spokesman, told IslamOnline.net by satellite phone from an unknown location in Afghanistan.

“Taliban stands fully united under the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omer and will continue the struggle against the foreign aggressors and their local agents.”

Former Taliban officials, included foreign minister Maulvi Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil and envoy to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, met last month in the holy city of Makkah with Afghan government officials.

President Karzai was represented by his brother Wali Karzai.

“We know that they met with them at a reception at the Royal Palace in Makkah, but they were not given any mandate to negotiate with them,” said Zabihullah.

He insisted that Mutawakkil, Zaeef and the others have now no involvement in Taliban policy-making.

“We have great respect for them, but they are not doing much nowadays. We have nothing to do with their meetings or talks with Karzai people.”

Taliban sources say Mutawakkil and the others, usually praised by US officials and media as “moderate Taliban”, had lost the trust of Mullah Omer.

The leadership is also skeptical about Mullah Zaeef, who was handed over by Pakistan to the US in January 2002 and released after four years in Guantanamo.

“It’s not that we consider them US agents or traitors. We have great respect for their sacrifices, but we have to be careful, because they are very much accessible now,” a Taliban leader told IOL, declining to be named.

“It will not be wise to involve them in our current operations because they can easily be approached or caught.”

Divided

Inside sources say Mutawakkil and Zaeef represent a faction in Taliban that favors talks with the Karzai regime, believing it will ultimately lead to the withdrawal of US-led forces.

However, Taliban field commanders in south and northeastern Afghanistan oppose the approach, added the sources.

The Taliban leader admits a thinking within the leadership that the Saudi peace initiative should be responded to positively.

“We have great respect for King Abdullah, but the ground reality is totally different in Afghanistan,” he told IOL.

“Opponents of  talks (within Taliban) are outnumbered because of the US brutalities against common Afghans.”

Saudi Arabia was one of three countries to recognize the regime when it was in power.

Zabihullah, the Taliban spokesman, insists they are gaining more power and ground.

“There is no need whatsoever to talk to the US or its agents. The occupational forces are losing ground in Afghanistan with every passing day,” he told IOL.

“At this stage, any settlement will strengthen them and will turn out to be dangerous for the freedom movement.

“US forces will have to leave Afghanistan in any case.”

Taliban, ousted by the US following the 9/11 attacks, has since been engaged in protracted guerrilla warfare against foreign forces and the Karzai regime.

General David McKiernan, the top US commander in Afghanistan, said Thursday he backed a “political solution” to the conflict with Taliban.

Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, Britain’s top military commander in Afghanistan, ruled out earlier this week a possible military defeat for Taliban, adding his voice to a growing camp calling for talks with Taliban.

Admiral rtd Javed Iqbal, a senior Islamabad-based defense and security analyst, doubts Washington’s stance on talks with Taliban.

“America is not serious about peace or talks. This is only an eyewash,” he told IOL.

“It (US) is only trying to retrieve the rapidly losing morale of its troops and save them from total destruction by playing the dialogue game,” he argues.

“America doesn’t seem to be serious in talks. It is hoodwinking Taliban to save its neck, which is in the their clutches.”