Pressure rises to negotiate in Afghanistan

March 17, 2011 at 10:18 AM   |   Comments

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KABUL, Afghanistan, March 17 (UPI) -- Leaders of all sides in the war in Afghanistan say they want to negotiate an end to the fighting to reduce the international military presence as support wanes.

Taliban leaders have indicated they would be open to discussions if their security could be guaranteed, a step back from statements that they will not negotiate before foreign troops left, The New York Times reported Thursday.

"The environment is shifting," a Western diplomat in Kabul told the Times. "If the Taliban make a decision they are interested, things could move quite quickly."

U.S. officials also have been adamant they won't talk to top Taliban or other insurgent leaders considered "irreconcilable."

Recent comments, however, indicate an effort to lower barriers to talks, observers said. Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to recast preconditions for talks, describing in a speech insurgents' laying down their weapons, accepting the Afghan Constitution and renouncing al-Qaida as "necessary outcomes."

The State Department played down the language shift, but a western diplomat in Washington told the Times the speech "now leaves room for interpretation, which opens doors."

"The seismic shift here (in Kabul) was Hillary Clinton's speech," a diplomat stationed in Afghanistan said. "This is liberating for other countries who want to try to facilitate a negotiation."

The Afghan government insists the preconditions for talks remain the same but supports diplomatic efforts that could lead to negotiations, including providing amnesty and security for Taliban leaders so that they can participate.

The High Peace Council, appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, wrote letters to two of the Taliban's leadership organizations, inviting them to talk. In response, the Taliban organizations asked if the council was autonomous and could ensure the safety of insurgent leaders, the Times said.

"We are working on this process to find a location or safe haven for the Taliban to go there with protections and guarantees to talk to the Americans and the world," said Arsala Rahmani, the former Taliban minister of higher education and now a member of the High Peace Council.

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