Representatives of Afghanistan’s warring factions met on Thursday for two days of landmark talks that diplomats hope will bolster a fledgling peace process in the war-torn country.
For the first time since a US-led bombing campaign drove the Taliban from power in 2001, senior figures in the movement sat down with officials from the government and other opposition forces for a round table discussion on the country’s future that was brokered by a French think tank.
The organisers, the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), confirmed the closed-door talks had got underway at an undisclosed location near Paris but would not divulge the agenda or other details for fear of compromising a potentially significant confidence-building exercise.
The talks come against a background of accelerating efforts to draw the Taliban and other opponents of President Hamid Karzai into negotiations on how Afghanistan will be run after Western troops withdraw at the end of 2014.
The alternative, diplomats fear, is a multi-sided civil war that will make more than a decade of Western intervention in the country look like a colossal waste of human life and hundreds of billions of dollars.
As a first step, Karzai’s administration has been attempting to secure the release of top Taliban prisoners held in Pakistan.
Progress on the prisoner issue is seen as vital if the Taliban is to be drawn into direct negotiations with the government. Karzai’s roadmap envisages negotiations in Saudi Arabia next year with both Pakistani and US involvement.
But the presence here of senior figures Shahabuddin Dilawar and Naeem Wardak has been seen as a sign that the group is contemplating going beyond exploratory discussions.
Dilawar is a former deputy head of the Taliban’s Supreme Court.
Karzai’s roadmap for peace explicitly envisages Taliban leaders being brought into a power-sharing government and being appointed to posts such as provincial governors in their strongholds in the south and east of the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2012.
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