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Oct 12th, 2010


Afghan Leaders Seek Goodwill Gestures from U.S.

Momentum builds for political solution to end 9-year war

Burhanuddin Rabbani, Hamid Karzai, Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani, Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf
Afghan President Hamid Karzai (second from left) prays with members of the Afghanistan’s peace council during its inaugural session in Kabul, Afghanistan. From left: Burhanuddin Rabbani, Karzai, Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani, and Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf. (Photo credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP)

By Deb Riechmann

October 12, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan — Releasing Taliban figures detained at Guantanamo Bay and scratching scores of others off the U.N. sanctions list would jump-start peace talks aimed at ending the 9-year-old war, members of Afghanistan’s new peace council said Tuesday.

The council members, who hold their first business meeting on Wednesday, said goodwill gestures from the U.S. and international community could spur reconciliation talks — perhaps at a neutral location in Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Egypt or Turkey.

The momentum for a political solution has been slowly building in Afghanistan as public support for the war has waned in the West. The renewed push for peace comes as the last of 30,000 U.S. reinforcements have arrived in Afghanistan, pushing deeper into areas long held by insurgents.

Many top military and diplomatic leaders have publicly supported peace efforts, though they remain skeptical that insurgents are ready to lay down their arms, embrace the Afghan constitution and sever ties with al-Qaida and other terrorist networks.

‘Countryman to countryman’

Ethnic minorities and women, who were repressed under the Taliban, have expressed concerns about what any deal with the militants would bring. Most members of the Taliban are Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. The minority Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras are not likely to sit quietly on the sidelines if Karzai, a Pashtun, makes a deal with insurgents.

But Staffan de Mistura, the top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, said all parties including the Taliban know there is no military solution to the conflict. He predicted the next several months will be particularly violent because both the Taliban and international forces will be applying maximum pressure on each other to position themselves for possible negotiation.

In hopes of finding a peaceful resolution, Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently set up the 68-member council to guide formal talks with the armed opposition.

Karzai said this week that his government has been talking with the Taliban “countryman to countryman” for “quite some time.” He characterized the talks as unofficial personal contacts — not official contact with the Taliban leadership. …

Arsala Rahmani, a member of the peace council who served as deputy education minister in the former Taliban regime, said Tuesday that discussions were under way for the United States or United Nations to guarantee safe passage for representatives of militant groups to meet somewhere outside of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran to discuss ways to reconcile with the Afghan government. …

Rahmani said trust must be established between the Taliban and the U.S. and other Western players. Release of four or five top Taliban prisoners from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay and the de-listing of about 150 individuals linked to the Taliban from the U.N. sanctions list are the key stumbling blocks to negotiating peace, he said. …

Publicly, the Taliban have rejected the peace council, calling it an “American initiative to delay the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.” …

Rahmani and the other member of the peace council also said Pakistan should release or give Afghanistan custody of its Afghan prisoners, including the Afghan Taliban’s No. 2 leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Baradar was arrested in February in a joint raid with the CIA — a move some analysts believe was driven by Pakistan’s desire to guarantee itself a seat at the negotiating table. Rahmani said Baradar was one of 31 Afghan Taliban figures being held in Pakistan because they were willing to talk peace. …

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10/15/10 Update

U.S. advising Afghanistan in talks with Taliban (MSNBC.com. Oct. 14, 2010) — The Obama administration is offering advice and following the initial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a news conference Thursday at NATO headquarters in Belgium. He spoke shortly after a former Afghan president who heads a new peace council said he’s convinced the Taliban are ready to negotiate peace. … Full story

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Related reports on this site


A man believed to be Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in a photograph taken in 1998, given to The New York Times by a former photographer for the Taliban.

Taliban’s Top Commander Captured (Feb. 17, 2010)

Afghanistan “Mission Failure” (Sept. 21, 2009)

Taliban Offered Safe Conduct (Nov. 17, 2008)

Victory in Afghanistan? (Oct. 5, 2008)

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — October 12, 2009

Bachmann’s MSNBC Amnesia

One year ago today, I reported that Rep. Michele Bachmann told bloggers at an event in Washington: “Quite honestly I don’t even know anything about MSNBC.” “MSNBC,” I reminded Bachmann, “is the cable network on which you dishonored your office on October 17, 2008, when you called for McCarthy-like witch hunts to find out which members of Congress are ‘pro-America or anti-America’.”

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — October 12, 2008

After the Primary Election: Day 33

Two years ago today, on the 33rd day after losing my 2008 primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, I reported on a spate of attacks against Christians in Mosul, Iraq, forcing hundreds of families to flee for their lives.

Image: Christians flee Mosul
A convoy of cars and trucks as Christians flee Mosul on Monday, Oct. 13, 2008, a day after the 10th killing of an Iraqi Christian in the city since the beginning of the month. (Photo credit: Emad Matti / AP)





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