US denies 'direct Taliban contact'

Richard Holbrooke dismisses media claims of US involvement in secret reconciliation talks.

    Holbrooke said any Taliban fighter willing to reconcile has to sever ties with al-Qaeda [File: GALLO/GETTY]

    Washington and its allies agreed in London to support efforts by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, to persuade fighters not ideologically committed to the Taliban or al-Qaeda to lay down their arms in exchange for financial rewards and jobs.

    Integration programme

    Holbrooke said that this would run "in parallel" to military efforts, stepped up with the deployment of almost 40,000 more international troops to join the 110,000 already in Afghanistan, and the training of Afghan security forces.

    "The majority of people fighting with the Taliban are not ideologically committed either to al-Qaeda or [Taliban chief] Mullah Omar, and that is what the integration programme is all about," he said.

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    "The number one issue is that anyone who wants to reconcile, reintegrate or anything has to sever any ties, any involvement with al-Qaeda. For the majority of the people fighting with the Taliban that is an easy decision. But for the leadership it may be difficult."

    Earlier on Sunday, the Afghan Taliban dismissed Karzai's attempt to reach out to the group, calling the reconciliation offer "futile" and "farcical", 

    In a web statement, the Taliban said the conditions set for reconciliation were "escalating the war rather than ending it."

    Reports after the London talks said that Kai Eide, the outgoing UN special representative to Afghanistan, had met with Taliban figures on January 8 at their request - claims vehemently denied by the Taliban.

    Karzai, also in Munich, said Afghans "with no ideological opposition" to the Afghan government had been driven into the arms of the Taliban because of their lack of prospects and would "return to normalcy" if given "incentives".

    Earlier this week, Karzai travelled to Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah about the reintegration strategy.

    Saudi Arabia has said the Taliban must deny sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, before it will act as a mediator.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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