Taliban considering Afghan govt talksFriday 29 January 2010 15.39
Taliban leaders will 'soon' decide whether to join talks with the Afghan government, after President Hamid Karzai invited them to a peace council aimed at ending the Afghan war.
Yesterday, at a major conference on Afghanistan in London, Mr Karzai set the framework for dialogue with Taliban leaders when he called on the Islamist group's leadership to take part in a loya jirga - or large assembly of elders - to initiate peace talks.
The call came amid a diplomatic push from Western powers involved in the Afghanistan conflict to make hard plans that would pave the way for them to begin withdrawing their troops.
Under Mr Karzai's proposal, the West would not be directly involved in peace talks.
A separate plan backed by Washington and its allies would set up a fund to reintegrate Taliban fighters by luring them away from the insurgency with jobs and cash.
A Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan declined to talk in detail about Mr Karzai's plans and only said the militants would make a decision about his offer 'soon'.
'I cannot say a word regarding these peace talks. The Taliban leadership will soon decide whether to take part,' the spokesman, who uses the name Qari Mohammad Yousuf, said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
The Taliban has repeatedly said that negotiations with the Afghan government can only take place when foreign troops completely withdraw from Afghanistan and have called the reintegration plans a 'trick'.
A big Pashtun tribe in east Afghanistan, the Shinwari, announced it would help the Afghan government in its efforts to fight the Taliban in return for construction projects for the community.
Tribe head Malek Osman said he would impose a fine on anyone in his district who worked with the Taliban, and urged one man of fighting age from each family to join the army or police.
Mr Karzai's endorsement of talks in London does not represent a change of policy: he announced last year he planned to invite Taliban leaders to the peace conference, and has repeatedly emphasised his hope they would join talks.
Previous contacts between the government and Taliban representatives have made little progress, and many regional experts say the Taliban is unlikely to offer concessions while they feel they are winning the war.
An Afghan government mediator said this week the Taliban is also likely to demand the release of prisoners and the removal of Taliban leaders from blacklists, something US officials have said is out of the question.
Nevertheless, the government in Kabul and its Western backers have increasingly signalled their hope for a negotiated end to the war.