KABUL - President Hamid Karzai has met with representatives of a major Taliban-linked insurgent group in a step toward national reconciliation, presidential spokesmen said Monday.
Talking with the Taliban and other insurgent groups is gaining
traction in Afghanistan, even as thousands of U.S. and NATO
reinforcements are streaming in to reverse the insurgents’ momentum. NATO reported two more service members were killed Monday in separate explosions in southern Afghanistan but did not release nationalities.
Besides finding ways to reconcile with insurgent leaders, the
Afghan government is finalizing a plan to use economic incentives
to lure low- and mid-level fighters off the battlefield. Regional
countries such as Pakistan, India and Iran have begun staking out
positions as the 8-year conflict nears an endgame.
Deputy spokesman Hamed Elmi would not say when the meeting with the delegation from Hizb-i-Islami took place or give any details of what was discussed. A member of the Hizb-i-Islami insurgent
movement, led by former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, said
the meeting occurred Monday morning and that further talks were
“I can confirm that a delegation of Hizb-i-Islami has arrived
in Kabul with a plan and has met with the president,” Elmi said.
The leader of the delegation is Qutbudin Halal, who served as
first deputy prime minister under President Burhanuddin Rabbani in
the 1990s, and includes a Hekmatyar son-in-law.
Officials of the group, whose fighters operate in the east and
north of the country, said the delegation brought a 15-point peace
plan, which calls for all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan
within six months beginning in July, a full year before President
Barack Obama would begin removing U.S. forces.
The plan also calls for the current Afghan parliament to serve
through December. After that, the parliament would be replaced by
an interim government, or shura, which would hold local and
national elections within a year. A new Afghan constitution would
be written, merging the current version with ones used earlier.
“Foreign fighters will not stay in Afghanistan after the
withdrawal of foreign troops,” according to a version sent by
e-mail by a Hizb-i-Islami official to The Associated Press.
Karzai’s chief spokesman, Waheed Omar, said the delegation had
presented its plan but “we have not yet studied it.”
“The president will study the concepts, but we’re not in a
position to comment on the concepts that they provided,” Omar
Harun Zarghun, chief spokesman for Hizb-i-Islami, said the
delegation also hopes to meet with Taliban leaders somewhere in
Afghanistan. The U.S. Embassy, however, said there would be no
meetings with U.S. officials.
Earlier this month, Hizb-i-Islami militiamen fought the Taliban
with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns in Baghlan
province. Dozens of Hizb-i-Islami fighters ended up joining
government forces that had amassed on the edge of the battle zone.
Hekmatyar, who is in his 60s, was a major recipient of U.S.
military aid during the war against the Soviets in the 1980s but
fell out of favor with Washington because of his role in the civil
war that followed the Soviet withdrawal. He was considered a close
ally of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden but offered in 2007 to
negotiate with the Karzai government.
Karzai has begun reaching out to insurgents this year and has
called for a national congress, or “peace jirga,” to be held late
next month to lay the groundwork for a peace initiative.
This month, a Karzai adviser and other Afghans involved in the
peace process said the government had been holding secret talks
with the Taliban’s No. 2 when he was captured in Pakistan. Karzai
was “very angry” when he heard that the Pakistanis had picked up
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar with an assist from U.S. intelligence,
one adviser said.
The U.N.’s former envoy to Afghanistan, Norwegian diplomat Kai
Eide, said last week that he and other U.N. officials had been in
discussions with senior Taliban officials since last year, but the
arrests of Mullah Baradar and other senior Taliban figures halted
Eide said the Pakistanis surely knew the roles these figures had
in efforts to find a political settlement. Pakistan denies the
arrests were linked to reconciliation talks.
Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report