Secret U.S. and Taliban Talks Reach ‘Critical Juncture’

After 10 months of secret talks with Taliban insurgents, U.S. officials say the talks are at a turning point and it will be soon known whether a breakthrough is possible, leading to the end of the Afghan war.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks about U.S. withdrawal, required from Pakistan help and the Taliban talks. Photo: NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/ Flickr

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in an interview Sunday that the government of the country can’t continue peace talks with its Taliban insurgents until the Islamic militia chooses a speaker with the authority to negotiate.

The President said the September assassination of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who had tried to speak to Taliban representatives, showed that “we were actually talking to nobody.”

“A man who came in the name of a messenger for peace turned out to be a suicide bomber,” Karzai said.

“Therefore, we have now clearly said that we will welcome a Taliban address, but that address must have the clarity that this representative is authorized and is representing the Taliban movement as we see it.”

Karzai told “Fareed Zakaria GPS” that Afghanistan hopes to get some help of its neighbor Pakistan for any talks to succeed: “We all know that the Taliban have their places there [Pakistan],” Karzai said.

“They operate from there. And a meaningful peace process cannot go well or end in satisfactory results without Pakistan’s participation and help.”

U.S. officials agreed that the Afghanistan diplomacy, having reached a delicate stage in recent time, remains a long shot. American troops are to be mostly gone by the end of 2014, that will supposedly reduce incentive for the Taliban to negotiate.

However, senior officials, wished to remain anonymous, suggested it has been a much larger piece of President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan policy than is publicly known.

They added they have held about half a dozen meetings with insurgent contacts, mostly in Germany and Doha with representatives of leader of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura, Mullah Omar.

On one hand, failure can lead Afghanistan to a conflict, perhaps even civil war, after NATO troops finish turning security over to Afghan weak government by the end of 2014.

On the other hand, success would be a sign of a political end to the war and the possibility that parts of the Taliban to be reconciled.

The talks are at a critical point.

“We imagine that we’re on the edge of passing into the next phase. Which is actually deciding that we’ve got a viable channel and being in a position to deliver,” said a senior U.S. official.

Karzai said foreign countries’ forces have been providing political stability for Afghanistan over 10 years, but security for individual Afghans “is yet to come.”

In an interview, Afghan President spoke about a rape victim freed from prison after he intended she has the right to make her own choice whether to marry her attacker.

Gulnaz, only her name was revealed for her own protection, was sentenced to 12 years in prison after she reported that her cousin’s husband had raped her.

Gulnaz hid what happened being afraid of reprisals. But it was found out that she was pregnant. The woman was claimed guilty of adultery and sentenced to 12 years in jail.

She was freed this week after the president’s intervention, and is now staying with the daughter.

Afghan law can’t properly draw the line between rape and adultery, which is a crime under Sharia, or Islamic law. But Karzai said he had done his best after having learned about her case.

“The issue was discussed in detail, and the right inquiries made,” the President said.

“We, on advice from the chief justice and the minister of justice, decided that this was a case, perhaps, of misjudgment and that it has to be resolved, and resolved by giving her a pardon immediately. That’s what I did.” [Via CNN and Reuters]

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