Taliban leaders reject peace talks

The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Taliban militants have rejected an offer of peace talks with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, saying there would be no negotiations until foreign troops leave Afghanistan.

Karzai offered on Sunday to provide security for the reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar if he enters negotiations and said the United States and other Western nations could leave Afghanistan or oust him if they disagree.

But Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said there could be no talks while foreign troops are in the country.

“The Taliban will pursue jihad against foreign forces” as well as Karzai’s government, he said on Monday, speaking from an undisclosed location.

In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, questioned Karzai’s security guarantee.

“One can’t imagine the circumstances where you have the senior leadership of the Taliban – that there would be any safe passage with respect to U.S. forces. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine those circumstances standing here right now,” McCormack said.

The White House also made clear its distaste for the idea of talking with Taliban leaders now, particularly Omar.

“We support Hamid Karzai. We think that he is a leader that has only the best interests of his country in mind. What we have seen from the Taliban, however, and from Mullah Omar – who we haven’t heard from in some time – is an unwillingness to renounce violence,” said Dana Perino, the White House press secretary.

Karzai has dismissed the demand for foreign troops to leave, saying they are needed to keep Afghanistan safe.

The Afghan president has long supported drawing the Islamist militia into the political mainstream if they accept the country’s Constitution and repudiate Al Qaeda. But his repeated offers to talk could also be aimed at portraying the insurgents as bent on violence instead of potentially legitimate rulers.

U.S. political and military leaders are also considering negotiating with some elements of the Taliban as the insurgency gains sway in large areas of Afghanistan, especially its south and east. Afghanistan is going through its worst violence since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban government.

In the past, no senior Taliban leader has publicly indicated the hard-line Islamist movement is willing to enter serious talks with what they call Karzai’s “puppet government.”

Mujahid said the peace overtures were a political ploy by Karzai ahead of next year’s planned presidential elections.