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Bold steps needed for Afghan peace: Karzai aide


KABUL AFGHAN government efforts to bring the Taliban into peace talks are stumbling and bold steps were needed to ensure that a council spearheading the reconciliation process can win the trust of insurgents, said a presidential advisor on Sunday.

Assadullah Wafa also expressed concern that Afghans, who have been subjected to one conflict after another, were losing hope that peace was possible from a process that so far has been shrouded in secrecy and conflicting views of likely success.

The government has made some contacts with the Taliban, who have made a strong comeback after being toppled by a US invasion in 20 01, but there are no signs that full-fledged peace talks will happen anytime soon.

US diplomats have also been seeking to broaden exploratory talks that began clandestinely in Germany in late 2010 after the Taliban offered to open a representative office in the Gulf emirate of Qatar, prompting demands for inclusion from Kabul.

“The talk about peace talks is just futile,” said Wafa, an advisor to President Hamid Karzai and a former governor in some of Afghanistan’s most volatile provinces.

Karzai set up a 70-member High Peace Council two years ago, with Wafa as a member, to try and negotiate an end to the war, now dragging into its eleventh year. It is meant to represent all ethnic and political alliances in a bid to reach out to the Taliban leadership, as well as convince grassroots insurgent fighters to join the government.

Wafa, however, questioned its effectiveness, and said its wide makeup actually made it difficult for the government to reach out to militant groups.

“I have told President Karzai and he promised that there would be repair of the peace council. I am not afraid to speak out, but it doesn’t much bear fruit.

There must be a review,” he told in an interview.

“I think genuine people aren’t part of the peace council, or there are individuals who the Taliban fought in the past or some communist baqaya (remains) in the council, because of whom the Taliban aren’t interested in talks.” Wafa, one of the Afghan government’s most experienced bureaucrats, said a reorganisation of the council could help kick-start talks in Qatar, where the Taliban has set up an office to build contacts with the United States, or elsewhere.

The stakes are high.

Failure to lure the Taliban to the negotiating table could mean perpetual instability, or even another civil war, once NATO combat troops withdraw in 2014.

Wafa’s scepticism extends far beyond the High Peace Council. He accused regional power Pakistan — seen as critical to efforts to end the war — of playing a double game, promising to work for peace while using the Taliban and other groups as proxies to advance its interests in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is known to want access to Taliban leaders, including Mullah Omar, belonging to the so-called Quetta Shura, named after the Pakistani city where it is said to be based.

They would be the decision makers in any substantive peace negotiations. “They (Pakistan) say one thing and do another. There is no doubt that Taliban leadership and Mullah Omar are in Quetta.

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