Pakistani arrests 'killed off' UN-Taliban peace talks
Published 20/03/2010 | 05:00
The United Nations has been talking with senior Taliban leaders about them laying down arms for about a year, its former Afghan envoy said yesterday.
Kai Eide said face-to-face talks with insurgent leaders had been going on since last spring but the contact had come to an abrupt halt after Pakistan seized a string of commanders last month.
The Norwegian diplomat said the UN had spoken with envoys from Mullah Mohammad Omar, the head of the Taliban's Quetta Shura, or ruling council.
The nature of the meetings, in Dubai and elsewhere, was "talks about talks" Mr Eide said.
Elements in Pakistan's intelligence service have sponsored and groomed the Afghan Taliban movement for 15 years and repeatedly refused western pleas to target its high command.
The arrest of senior Taliban leaders, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Pakistan in February, has increased Islamabad's influence over future talks.
"The effect of [the arrests] certainly was negative on our possibilities to continue the political process," said Mr Eide.
"The Pakistanis did not play the role that they should have played. They must have known who they were, what kind of role they were playing, and you see the result today."
The channels of communication had closed completely since the arrests in Pakistan.
The UK is vigorously pushing for a political settlement with insurgent groups to end the eight-year war which has claimed more than 1,000 US troops and 275 British deaths.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is to hold a peace council in May, but US officials have been lukewarm to efforts that directly engage the Taliban.
Last month Mr Eide wrote in 'The Daily Telegraph' that peace in Afghanistan needed talks with Mullah Omar's Taliban leadership.
He wrote that America's approach -- weakening the insurgency by coaxing away foot soldiers with offers of jobs and amnesty -- was insufficient.
He believes Mullah Omar had approved the talks. He said: "I find it unthinkable that such contact would take place without his knowledge and also without his acceptance."
Mr Karzai's brothers were in talks with Mullah Baradar, the Taliban military commander, at the time of his arrest.
Mr Eide said there had been multiple negotiations with the Taliban, including efforts by members of the Karzai government. The arrest angered Mr Karzai, but Pakistan denied it was an attempt to spoil talks. (© Daily Telegraph, London)