Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has said he will go to "any length" to protect Mullah Omar, the fugitive leader of the anti-government Taliban, in exchange for peace.
|Western and their Afghan army allies are struggling to rein in a resurgent Taliban [AFP]
Karzai said in Kabul on Sunday he would offer the protection even if it meant defying Afghanistan's international partners, who could remove him from his job or leave the country in disagreement.
His comments come as international political and military leaders are considering whether negotiating with the Taliban is necessary as the group gains sway in large areas of Afghanistan.
The Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan with Omar at the helm from 1996 to 2001, was driven from government in a US-led invasion for sheltering al-Qaeda after the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington.
Omar is wanted by the US and has a $10 million reward on his head.
"If I hear from him that he is willing to come to Afghanistan or to negotiate for peace ... I, as the president of Afghanistan, will go to any length to provide protection," Karzai said.
"If I say I want protection for Mullah Omar, the international community has two choices - remove me or leave if they disagree."
"If I am removed in the cause of peace for Afghanistan by force by them, than I will be very happy.
|Karzai insists he is willing to talk to the Afghan Taliban not linked to al-Qaeda [EPA]
"If they disagree, they can leave. But we are not in that stage yet."
Karzai confessed he had yet to hear from the Taliban leadership that they were willing to bring peace for Afghanistan, but said: "They must prove themselves."
He said that his government would accept no pre-conditions from the Taliban.
"If they want to negotiate only for the sake of peace, they are welcome," Karzai said.
Omar has not directly responded to Karzai's calls, but spokesmen associated with the Taliban have previously said their participation in any talks depends on the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops from the country.
Peace talks push
Karzai has for years pushed for peace talks with the Taliban as a way to end the violence in Afghanistan.
However, he has always insisted that his government would only consider talks with "Afghan Taliban" who do not have ties with al-Qaeda and agree to lay down their weapons and accept the post-Taliban constitution.
In September, Taliban members met Afghan and Pakistani officials during a dinner hosted by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, but there were no concrete results from the meeting.
Commenting on Karzai's remarks, Dawood Sultanzoy, an Afghan MP, told Al Jazeera: "It was between him and the international community, he forgot the Afghan nation ... if he cared for the Afghan nation, he would have paid attention to these things four, five or six years ago."
Also speaking on Al Jazeera, Rohan Gunaratna, an international security specialist based in Singapore, said: "Unless and until the Afghan government enters into a negotiated settlement with the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban, there will be no peace in Afghanistan.
Gunaratna said Omar is currently somewhere in the Pakistan side of the Afghan border, and could be persuaded.
But "it is crucial for the Afghan president to work with the Pakistani president, to use the goodwill between these two leaders to force the Afghan Taliban into a political settlement", he said.
Foreign soldiers hurt
Sunday's developments came against a backdrop of continued violence across Afghanistan.
Two US soldiers were wounded in a suicide car-bomb attack on their convoy in the western city of Herat, a US military spokesman said.
In another attack in Baghlan, a suicide bomber rammed a car into a convoy of German troops from a Nato-led force, killing one civilian and wounding 12 civilians and two German soldiers, police said.
A British soldier was killed on Saturday in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province in a bomb blast while on patrol, Britain's ministry of defence said.