here are encouraging signs that senior Taliban commanders may be ready to enter talks with Afghan authorities about ending their insurgency, the UK Foreign Office said Friday.
Recent months have seen a number of “feelers” from insurgents in response to President Hamid Karzai’s offer of reconciliation talks without preconditions, said a senior Foreign Office official.
The official cautioned that no big breakthrough was expected imminently, but said that the Taliban figures involved were “sufficiently senior” for the development to be seen as significant.
President Karzai’s drive to reintegrate Taliban fighters into mainstream Afghan society is a key plank of his strategy for the Kabul government to take over security responsibility for the whole of the country by the end of 2014.
But it suffered a major setback in November when a man claiming to be the Taliban’s second-ranking mullah was exposed as an impostor, following meetings with Afghan Government and Nato officials, facilitated by the UK.
The humiliating scam raised fears that efforts to establish lines of communication with the Taliban leadership were failing and that the reconciliation drive was attracting only foot soldiers with no wider influence on the insurgency, commentators said.
The London Conference on Afghanistan a year ago today gave Karzai authority to pursue reconciliation and reintegration talks with the Taliban, and the establishment of a High Peace Council (HPC) in September offered a formal route for meetings.
The HPC has conducted five visits to areas where the Taliban holds some sway – as well as a cross-border trip to Pakistan to talk to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s non-Taliban insurgent group – and Britain regards its activity as “helpful”.
But the Foreign Office official suggested that progress may come more quickly from the informal approaches now being made in the south of the country.
The process may gain momentum in the summer, when Taliban predictions of a withdrawal of international troops fail to materialise.
The Foreign Office official, speaking in London on condition of anonymity said “levels of interest have gone up and the Afghan Government have plans for exploiting that interest.
“Military pressure needs to continue because the Taliban are still fighting and still intimidating villages.
“It is a mistake to think of the Taliban as some sort of national liberation movement somehow representing the southern Pashtuns”, the official went on.
“That is emphatically not the case. What they do in some Pashtun communities is despicable.” The timetable set by Prime Minister David Cameron to withdraw British combat troops by 2015 remained “comfortable”, and it was possible that the first provinces to be handed over to Afghan control would be named at a Nato summit in the spring”.