Mullah Omar approves talks aimed at ending war in Afghanistan and is participating in Saudi-sponsored peace negotiationsChristina Lamb in Kabul
THE TALIBAN leader, Mullah Omar, has given his approval for talks aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan and has allowed his representatives to attend Saudi-sponsored peace negotiations.
“Mullah Omar has given the green light to talks,” said one of the mediators, Abdullah Anas, a former friend of Osama Bin Laden who used to fight in Afghanistan but now lives in London.
One of those negotiating for the Afghan government confirmed: “It’s extremely sensitive but we have been in contact both with Mullah Omar’s direct representatives and commanders from the front line.”
The breakthrough emerged after President Barack Obama admitted that US-led forces are not winning the war in Afghanistan and called for negotiations with “moderate Taliban”.
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“A big, big step has happened,” Anas said. “For the first time, there is a language of . . . peace on both sides.”
His words were echoed by the brother of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who has been attending talks on his behalf. “I have been meeting with Taliban for the last five days and I can tell you Obama’s words have created enormous optimism,” said Qayum Karzai. “There is no other way left but talks. All sides know that more fighting is not the way.”
As Britain and the US have increased troop numbers over the past two years, security has worsened, leading many to doubt the wisdom of sending in more.
A Sunday Times poll published today found that 64% of respondents favour talking to the Taliban to achieve a deal. Some 69% said the aim of stabilising Afghanistan was not sufficiently worthwhile to risk the lives of British troops and 64% thought the war could never be won.
Although observers question why the Taliban would agree to talks when they appear to have the upper hand in the conflict, Anas said its leaders knew they could not retake power without a bloodbath.
“Taliban are in a strong position now but that doesn’t mean they can control the state,” he said. “They are well aware that it’s a different situation to 1996 when they swept to power because Afghans saw them as bringing peace.”
Britain is also backing talks with the Taliban that could lead to their inclusion in the Afghan government and is pushing for a “reconciliation czar” to coordinate efforts.
“Economic development and a workable reconciliation strategy are as crucial as boots on the ground when it comes to dismantling the insurgency,” said David Miliband, the foreign secretary.
British death toll hits 150
A British soldier was killed in an explosion yesterday while on foot patrol in northern Helmand, Afghanistan. The soldier was from the 2nd Battalion, Royal Welsh Regiment. His death brings the number of British service personnel killed in the region to 150 since 2001. Brigadier-General Richard Blanchette, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force, said: “We are saddened by this brave soldier’s death, and offer our heartfelt condolences to the soldier’s family and friends.”
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