Afghan officials meet former Taliban

Jan. 23, 2012 at 1:43 AM
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KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Afghan officials have been meeting with a former Taliban ambassador who says the insurgents are ready to talk peace.

Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's ambassador to neighboring Pakistan prior to his capture, and other former Taliban officials have been meeting with Afghan officials, The Washington Post reported.

The meetings have been going on while Kabul awaits developments from Qatar, where the Taliban plan to open an office for talks with the United States.

Zaeef, who has become a frequent visitor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's palace and other former Taliban officials are being consulted for guidance and help in mediations, the Post reported.

Afghans are unhappy with Qatar, which reportedly has not kept the Karzai administration informed of its contacts with the Taliban leadership.

Zaeef and his colleagues, many of whom also were imprisoned and reintegrated, live close to Kabul, the Post said.

Zaeef is trying to convince Kabul the Taliban are serious about peace if preconditions can be met, the Post reported.

"They are ready to discuss peace," he was quoted as saying in an interview. "They have received the message from their leadership, and they are ready."

The report said thousands of former Taliban members, many of them low-level fighters, have already laid down their arms, but because of their status, their peace with the government has not received much attention.

With the peace talks approaching, Zaeef and others have been meeting with Afghan officials more frequently, Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said.

The Post quoted Afghan officials as saying the meetings are mostly informal and not the same as negotiations with Taliban diplomats in Qatar.

U.S. Special Envoy Marc Grossman, who was in Kabul during the weekend, said the Taliban must cut off their connections to other terror groups before opening the Qatar office.

The Post said Taliban spokesmen have denied links between the current organization and former officials.

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