In a speech to Afghan students Saturday, President Hamid Karzai said approvingly that the United States had opened up talks with the Taliban on ending its 10-year war against his government and international forces. “Peace talks have already started with them and it is running smoothly,” he stated.
Mr. Karzai’s statement goes far beyond what is usually said by western diplomats acquainted with the episodic, and occasionally embarrassing, efforts to open negotiations with the Taliban. They have said talks are in their beginnings, with little suggestions from the side of the actual insurgents to indicate that leaders of the group are interested.
The Obama administration neither immediately confirmed nor denied Mr. Karzai’s declaration.
State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said the U.S. has “consistently supported an Afghan-led” peace process.
“Over the past two years, we have laid out our red lines for the Taliban: They must renounce violence; they have to abandon their alliance with al-Qaeda; and these people must abide by the constitution of Afghanistan,” Mr. Toner said. “This is the price for reaching a political resolution and getting an end to the military actions that are targeting their leadership and decimating their ranks.”
At the same time, a suicide attack on a police station in the crowded centre of the Afghan capital killed nine people Saturday and set off a gun fight near several ministries and not far from the presidential palace.
The explosions and firefight erupted just hours after Mr. Karzai’s statement.
The Taliban maintained credit for the Kabul attack, as it has for assassinations over the past two months of Afghan officials, soldiers and police officers across the nation.
The Afghan Interior Ministry said five of the deceased in the capital shoot-out and bombing were ordinary people, three were cops and one was an intelligence agent.
Afghan security forces, together with Afghan government authorities and ordinary workers utilized by the NATO-led coalition right here, are increasingly the targets of attacks by the Taliban and associated insurgent groups.
In public claims taking credit for assassinations and bombings, the Taliban dismiss the Afghan government as a “puppet” and demand the drawback of all foreign soldiers.
The government’s peace authorities, which includes former Taliban officials, has argued that talks will go nowhere fast until the spiritual movement’s leaders can travel openly outside their sanctuaries in Pakistan.
A first action to meeting their demands came on Friday, when the United Nations Security Council decided to set up separate sanctions lists for the Taliban and al-Qaeda, whose members have long been connected on the same blacklist.
The Afghan government proposed that the names of some 18 of the 135 Taliban on the list be removed altogether. But former Taliban officials say that those men have long broken with the group and have no particular access to the deceptive leadership. Five of them are on Mr. Karzai’s peace council.
One of the more notorious is Mohammed Qalamuddin, who headed the feared religious police during the Taliban’s five-year reign when men were beaten if they did not go to prayers and women were regularly beaten for any infraction of the regime’s archaic restrictions.
Mr. Qalamuddin, who said he has been experiencing “a simple life” in Kabul as a religion teacher in the public schools, said moving away from the blacklist will mean nothing for him. “I don’t have to travel the world,” he said in an interview, adding that he also has nothing in foreign banks that has been blocked.
“But the government should try to speak to the leadership of the Taliban,” he said. “I’m hopeful there could be dialogue, god willing.”
The most recent attack in Kabul, on the first day of the work week, broke a month long period of comparable calm in the city. The capital last experienced a large-scale attack since May when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive-filled vest up at a army hospital. Six medical students died in that attack.
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