WASHINGTON: The United States said on Thursday it cannot see Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar meeting criteria for peace talks with the Afghan government and playing a constructive role in Afghanistan's future.
US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Taliban foot-soldiers and leaders could participate in Afghanistan's future if they renounce violence, cut ties with al Qaeda and support the Afghan constitution. But he doubted the opportunity would be seized by Mullah Omar, the Taliban's one-eyed leader who is believed to be hiding in Pakistan and who, the Washington Post said last week, backs secret high-level peace talks with Kabul.
"From our view, Mullah Omar has been attached at the hip to bin Laden for some time. So, based on everything that we know about him today, in fact he will not meet the criteria that we have laid out," Crowley told reporters.
"He had many opportunities during the '90s and even after 9/11 to disassociate himself from Osama bin Laden. He chose not to," Crowley said. "So you know, there's nothing that we see that indicates that Mullah Omar will, in fact, change his stripes. As a result, we don't see that he qualifies to play a constructive role in Afghanistan's future."
Last week The Washington Post cited unnamed Afghan and Arab sources as saying the high-level peace talks were believed to involve delegates authorised by Mullah Omar and his Quetta Shura, the Afghan Taliban group based in Pakistan.
Mullah Omar and other top Taliban figures have insisted for years that US-led foreign forces must first leave Afghanistan before peace talks can begin. But a source close to the talks told the Post that the leadership knows "that they are going to be sidelined," and was negotiating with the government of President Hamid Karzai to ensure their positions are protected.
A senior State Department official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, suggested Quetta Shura members would be taking part in the talks, just not those close to Mullah Omar. "I don't think we're ruling out participation by members of the Quetta Shura. I happen to believe personally that certain members of the Quetta Shura will not qualify," the official said. "The Quetta Shura includes Mullah Omar but we'll see who's willing to actually disassociate himself from al Qaeda and who won't."
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