Friday, February 27, 2009
01:11 Mecca time, 22:11 GMT
News CENTRAL/S. ASIA
'Secret' Taliban talks under way
Talks centre around the return to Afghanistan of Gulbaldin Hekmatyar, the
former prime minister
officials, the Afghan government and Taliban-linked mediators have been
engaged in secret negotiations to bring elements of the group into
Afghanistan's political process, Al Jazeera has learned.
The talks, which have been taking place in Dubai, London and
Afghanistan since the beginning of the year, have proposed the return
of Gulbaldin Hekmatyar, the former Afghan prime minister, who has been
in hiding for seven years, to Afghanistan. Hekmatyar
is the leader of the Hezb-i-Islami forces, a faction of Afghanistan's
Hezb-i-Islami party, and is purported to be in the northwest tribal
region of Pakistan.
His forces fight alongside the Taliban and are considered a terrorist
organisation by the United States forces in Afghanistan.
According to information revealed to Al Jazeera, Hekmatyar would be
offered asylum in Saudi Arabia, after which he would be allowed to
return to Afghanistan with immunity from prosecution.
The British government is backing that element of the deal, sources told Al
Read Al Jazeera's special correspondence from Afghanistan
James Bays, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul, said: "The plan is
to widen these talks and to bring in elements of the Taliban."
It is not clear whether the secret negotiations were aimed at
separating Hekmatyar's Taliban-linked faction from the group, or
whether to encourage some elements of the Taliban to join the political
Michael Griffen, an Afghanistan expert, told Al Jazeera: "If
Hekmatyar is in this only to trade for his own survival and immunity
from prosecution and eventual retirement, that doesn't provide for his
"If they are not included in the deal, they will follow the Taliban."
Patricia Degennaro, a professor at the Centre for Global Affairs at
New York University, told Al Jazeera that talks were a central part of
ending the conflict.
"It's long overdue that there is some kind of jirga or regional
council in Afghanistan, where some of these parties who have had
grievances over the years are brought together.
"They need to start talking to each other and move forward so people can start
putting their arms down."
Divide and rule
Mullah Mottawakil, a former Taliban foreign minister, said the talks would fail
if the plan was to split the Taliban.
"It will not benefit anyone if he [Hamid Karzai, the Afghan
president] brings one part of the Taliban into the government, and
leaves the other part behind. It will not finish the war."
Ghairat Baheer, one of Hektmatyar's two son-in-laws, released from
the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in May last year after
six years in custody, is involved in the process, according to reports.
Baheer, an ambassador to Pakistan in the 1990s, was given a visa to travel to
London by British authorities last month.
Humayun Jarir, a Kabul-based politician and son-in-law of Hekmatyar, is also
said have been in involved in the talks.
Karzai has long proposed holding talks with the Taliban.
Should secret talks be taking place without his knowledge, it is
likely to undermine him and further sour relations between the US and
Al Jazeera has also learned this is not the first time in recent
months that talks between the Afghan government and Taliban
representatives have been attempted.
Humayun Jarir, Hekmatyar's son-in-law is purported to be involved in the talks
Last year, Ahmed Jan, an intermediary for the Taliban and tribal elder
from Helmand province, was sent on behalf of the Taliban to Kabul for
talks with the Afghan government, our correspondent said.
Jan was arrested after US officials discovered talks were to take
place, and is now being held in US custody at Bagram, an Afghan
political figure told Al Jazeera.
With the arrival in Kabul last month of Richard Holbrooke, the US
envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan of the new administration of Barack
Obama, the US president, resistance to talks with the Taliban may
Ahmadshah Ahmadzai, another former Afghan prime minister, said
trying to bring all Afghan parties – including Mullah Omar, the Taliban
leader - to the negotiating table was the only option.
"If Mullah Omar agrees [to talks] and those around him do - this is the real
Taliban faction - then they can bring peace."
Degennaro said: "It's really important to at least test the waters
and see what's happening, and what response we're going to get, which
is probably what they're doing right now."
The Afghan foreign minister is currently in Washington DC to discuss the future
of the region.
Source: Al Jazeera
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