Afghan Opposition Talks with Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- An opposition group says its leaders, including a former president, have been meeting with the Taliban and other anti-government groups in hopes of negotiating an end to rising violence in Afghanistan.

The contacts have taken place between leaders of the opposition National Front and "high level" militant leaders during the last few months, party spokesman Sayyid Agha Hussain Fazel Sancharaki said in an interview Sunday.

He said among those at the meetings were former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, now a member of parliament, and Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who is President Hamid Karzai's security adviser and a powerful northern strongman.

Rabbani said Afghanistan's six-year war must be solved through talks, echoing a view held by many in the country.

"There's no doubt that some inside the Taliban are not willing to negotiate, but there are some Taliban who are interested in solving problems through talks," Rabbani, Afghanistan's president from 1992-96, told The Associated Press in an interview.

"We in the National Front and I myself believe the solution for the political process in Afghanistan will happen through negotiations," he said.

Support for talks to end the increasingly bloody Afghan conflict have gained steam over the last year. President Hamid Karzai said for the first time in April 2007 that he had met with Taliban militants in attempts to negotiate peace.

Rabbani said opposition leaders will soon discuss and possibly select a formal negotiating team and that Taliban fighters, in their talks with Karzai, have also proposed sending a formal team for talks with the government.

The behind-the-scenes maneuverings come just as the United States is pouring more troops into the country. Some 32,000 U.S. forces are in Afghanistan, the most since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Two NATO soldiers died and two others were wounded Wednesday in an explosion in southern Afghanistan, the military alliance said, while a clash in the same region left five Taliban militants and a policeman dead.

It did not disclose the nationalities of the casualties or the exact location of the blast. The wounded were evacuated to a military base for treatment, NATO said in a statement.

In Zabul province, militants ambushed a police convoy, killing an officer, said Gen. Abdul Raziq Khan, a provincial police official. In ensuing firefight, five militants were also killed, Raziq said. Authorities recovered their bodies alongside their weapons.

Separately, militants abducted and beheaded two Afghan men working at a U.S. military base in the eastern Kunar province, provincial police Chief Abdul Jalal Jalal said.

The two men were abducted Monday after they left the base in Korangal Valley, the scene of fierce clashes between U.S. troops and insurgents in the past few years. Their bodies were discovered Tuesday, Jalal said.

Militants regularly target people working for U.S. and other foreign forces.

Despite the violence and heightened military posture, U.S. ambassador William Wood has said the U.S. supports talks with militants who will lay down arms and recognize the Afghan constitution. The U.S. does not support talks with al-Qaida fighters.

Across the border in Pakistan, where militant violence has spiked over the last year, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani late last month offered talks to militants ready to renounce violence there.

Negotiations will ultimately be the only way to end the Afghan conflict, said Wadir Safi, a professor of public and international law at Kabul University.

"Negotiations," he said. "Find the address of all of the Taliban, find out what they want. They will have their own suggestions, and if it's not anti-civilization, you can come to terms with them instead of spending money on military budgets."

Karzai, in a news conference this month, said the National Front efforts are good for the country. He said many rebels are Afghans who need to be brought back into society. For months, Karzai has trumpeted reconciliation, even offering to meet with Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

But the National Front says Karzai has not followed up his words with action. He needs to put a formal negotiations process in place involving all parties, Rabbani said.

"I told Karzai that when a person starts something he should complete it. On the issue of the negotiations it is not right to take one step forward and then one step back," he said. "This work should be continued in a very organized way."

Rabbani and Sancharaki declined to say who the National Front has met with. Sancharaki said their militant interlocutors were "important people."

The Taliban, through spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, denied there had been any contact. "If they are claiming they have contact with somebody, we don't know who," he said.

Thousands of former members of the hard-line Taliban regime, including a sprinkling of former senior commanders and officials, have made peace with the government through its national reconciliation commission.

But Safi, the university professor, said that because the National Front does not represent the government, its negotiations are "nonsense."

He said the group, whose leaders fought each other and then the Taliban in Afghanistan's devastating civil wars during the 1990s, only wants to advance its own power.

"They want the Taliban side to be on their side," Safi said. "It's an unholy alliance ... and the Taliban want to use Rabbani and Fahim against Karzai."


Associated Press writers Fisnik Abrashi and Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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