Karzai consults Saudi leaders

Afghan leader steps up bid to reconcile with moderate Taliban and to tackle corruption.

    Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, is hoping to launch a peace initiative with the Taliban and allied groups by reaching out to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.

    Karzai arrived in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, on Tuesday, just days after a conference in London discussed ways of curbing corruption in Afghanistan and achieving reconciliation with the Taliban.

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    World leaders who attended the conference last week demonstrated a concerted effort to reintegrate the Taliban into Afghan society.

    The leaders also pledged millions of dollars for a new fund to pay Taliban fighters to lay down arms.

    However, Taliban leaders still refuse to openly engage with the Kabul government.

    So far, Karzai's repeated peace overtures to the Taliban have resulted only in the surrender of some low-ranking figures.

    So his visit to Saudi Arabia comes in hopes that the kingdom's prestige in the Muslim world will help persuade important Taliban leaders to join peace negotiations.

    However, Riyadh, one of only three capitals that recognised the Taliban while it was in power before its violent removal in 2001, has said the group must deny sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, before it will act as a mediator.

    National reconciliation

    Karzai will hold talks with Abdullah on "national reconciliation in Afghanistan and in the region" during his visit, the presidential palace in Kabul said in a statement on Wednesday.

    His is also expected to summon a "loya jirga", or grand council of elders and influential figures, in the near future.

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

    Taliban leaders have insisted, however, that all Western forces must withdraw from Afghanistan before they will agree to talks.

    Karzai rejected that precondition on Sunday, saying the Taliban should strive for peace first so that the troops can leave.

    Nato and the US have 113,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting al-Qaeda and Taliban-led fighters, who are seeking to overthrow the government.

    Foreign troops have been in Afghanistan since 2001 when the US and UK invaded the country in order to remove the Taliban, who were accused of harbouring al-Qaeda operatives, from power.

    But Taliban and al-Qaeda have both regrouped since then and continue to launch attacks.

    'First foreign patrons'

    Speaking to Al Jazeera on Tuesday from Jeddah, Robert Lacey, an expert on Saudi politics, said involving Riyadh's in peace efforts with the Taliban would help significantly.

    "The Saudis were the first foreign patrons of the Taliban. [The Saudis] welcomed them and saw them as the new way ahead and liked their austere religious attitude," he said.

    "The Saudis were also the very first government along with the United Arab Emirates [and Pakistan] to recognise the Taliban."

    Lacey said everyone would like the Taliban to help catch Osama bin Laden and publicly say that they are not his hosts.

    "If they [the Taliban] do that genuinely, that is one step forward in progress," he said.

    "[After all] it was only when bin Laden came into the picture that things started going wrong."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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