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Saudis 'mediating Taliban talks'
Former Afghan minister says efforts to reconcile with Taliban elements are under way.
Last Modified: 30 Jan 2010 14:56 GMT

Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister of Afghanistan, has said that reconciliation talks with the Taliban are under way.

Ghani, currently a senior fellow for the Brookings Institution in Washington, also said that Saudi Arabia had been active in mediation.

"There are people [doing] mediation in the of kingdom of Saudi Arabia and His Majesty, the King of Saudi Arabia, has been involved and others have been involved," he told Al Jazeera on Saturday.

At a conference in London earlier in the week, officials announced that "moderate" Taliban would be urged to enter talks with the Kabul government and a new fund would be set up to encourage fighters to lay down their arms.

'Disenchanted brothers'

Ghani's remarks, as also a report from earlier in the week that suggested Afghan officials had held a meeting in the Maldives with representatives of an armed group believed to be fighting alongside the Taliban, suggests that Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, is already reaching out.

At the London conference, Karzai said that Kabul and its international backers would concentrate of wooing his "disenchanted brothers" who were fighting for money rather than ideology.

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Ghani said that efforts to draw Taliban elements into the political process would require the assistance of foreign powers.

"We are delighted that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries and other Islamic countries will be coming increasingly forward to claim an active role," he said.

"We also need the engagement of China to make sure the regional arrangements are put in place to bring about a situation where use of sanctuary in neighbouring countries is denied.

"This is a time of high risks but simultaneously a time of high awards."

The mention of China was made in the context of the country's close relationship with Pakistan, whose border regions are believed to serve as a safe haven for several Afghan Taliban commanders and their allies.

Karzai has said that he is planning what he calls a "grand peace jirga" to open negotiations with armed fighters and tribal leaders from around the country.

Hussein Shobokshi, a Saudi-based columnist for the Alsharq Alawsat newspaper, told Al Jazeera there are wings in the Taliban that believe it is time for serious dialogue with the government to find a peaceful solution to the problems in Afghanistan.

"We are seeing another Taliban - that is more politically savvy and realistic, Other countries will be able to deal with them," he said.

"There is a sense of duty to take ownership for this problem [within other countries]. The dimensions of the problems have been realised and are being addressed."

Taliban rejection

A Taliban commander told Al Jazeera that no member of the group would be prepared to take part in talks if they were required to disarm first.

"I confirm that none of us will lay down arms even if he is paid mountains of money; none of us would abandon the right path," Doran Safi, a commander in the east of Afghanistan, said.

However, Ghani, the former minister, said that no one commander spoke for all the pro-Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in the country and therefore it was difficult to gauge what the response to overtures from the government might be. 

"We must know that it's not one insurgency but a series of insurgencies. They're not unified and they don't speak with a unified voice," he told Al Jazeera.

"Some will accept and come over. Some will come over later. We need to be patient with this process."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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