Karzai reaching out to Taliban militants

FRIDAY, NOV. 9, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan – After nearly two years of increased bloodshed, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is reaching out to Taliban militants who have been waging battle against his government, in a renewed push for a political settlement to a conflict that increasingly seems unwinnable militarily, analysts and diplomats say.

Speaking of the need for national “reconciliation,” Karzai has invited insurgents to lay down their arms and talk, and even join his administration. His overtures have met with varied responses, from contempt to cautious consideration, from different elements within the Taliban, the radical Islamic movement that U.S.-led forces ousted from power in 2001 .

But observers say those differences can be exploited, and that the signs of flexibility, however tentative or fleeting, are encouraging.

“There’s more space than there’s ever been for a solution to this, other than endless conflict,” said Adrian Edwards, a United Nations spokesman here in the Afghan capital.

The push for dialogue comes after a summer of deadly militant attacks. On Tuesday, the country was hit by its most devastating suicide bombing yet, an attack that killed as many as 68 people, including more than a dozen children and six lawmakers. The Taliban has denied responsibility.

Such incidents have deepened public unease and anger with Karzai’s government, which many Afghans blame for the lack of improvement in their lives and the deterioration in public security.

An estimated 5,700 people, a large number of them civilians, have been killed this year in clashes between insurgents and allied troops working in conjunction with Afghanistan’s fledgling security forces. Taliban attacks and kidnappings have spread beyond the group’s traditional stronghold in the south and east to northern provinces around Kabul and the capital itself.

In recent days, reports have surfaced of an impending deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam, a prominent Taliban and tribal leader in southern Afghanistan who commands hundreds of armed followers.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper said the deal would see Salaam and his fighters pledge support to the Afghan government and British troops stationed in the south.

What Karzai offers in return will be under close scrutiny. Human rights and other groups already have decried the involvement in government of former warlords and other leaders accused of wartime atrocities, and the lack of progress in holding such men to account.


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