Karzai opponents talk to Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan: Afghan political parties united against President Hamid Karzai recently opened talks with the Taliban and U.S.-declared terrorist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, hoping to broker peace ahead of next year’s exit of international combat troops and a presidential race that will determine Karzai’s successor, Taliban and opposition leaders have told The Associated Press.

It’s the first confirmation that the opposition has opened its own, new channel of discussions to try to find a political resolution to the war, now in its 12th year. And the Taliban too seem to want to move things forward, even contemplating replacing their top negotiator, two senior Taliban officials told the AP.

Reaching an understanding with both the Taliban and Hekmatyar’s Islamist militant group, Hezb-e-Islami, would give the opposition, which expects to field a consensus candidate in next year’s presidential election, a better chance at cobbling together a post-Karzai government. The alternative to a multi-party government after the 2014 elections, many fear, could signal a return to the internecine fighting of the early 1990s that devastated the capital, Kabul.

But with ongoing back-channel discussions and private meetings being held with Taliban interlocutors around the world, it’s difficult to know exactly who’s talking with whom.

Early last year, Karzai, who demands that any talks be led by his government, said that his administration, the U.S. and the Taliban had held three-way talks aimed at moving toward a political settlement of the war. The U.S. and the Taliban, however, both deny that such talks took place.

Hekmatyar’s group has held talks with both the Karzai government and the United States, and a senior U.S. official said the Taliban are talking to representatives of more than 30 countries, and indirectly with the U.S.

The Taliban broke off formal discussions with the U.S. last year and have steadfastly rejected negotiations with the Karzai government, which they view as a puppet of foreign powers.

News about the opposition group’s new avenue of talks comes amid Karzai’s latest round of verbal attacks on the United States, which have infuriated some of his allies in Washington and confused some of his senior advisers.