Taliban demands release of prisoners
THE Afghan Taliban is demanding that its leaders be removed from terrorist blacklists and several prisoners be released as a precondition of further peace talks, an insurgent negotiator claims.
US commanders have encouraged the Afghan government to establish talks with the Taliban and other insurgents in an effort to resolve the nine-year conflict.
President Hamid Karzai established a High Council for Peace earlier this month to foster negotiations with insurgents. The US has used its helicopters to take Taliban commanders to meetings.
Afghan and Nato officials hope the talks can progress as they prepare for a withdrawal of American forces next year.
Ghairat Baheer, a leader of the Hizb-i-Islami insurgent group headed by his father-in-law Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has disclosed the Taliban's conditions for the talks.
"For the Taliban side it's all about the blacklists and the release of prisoners as a goodwill gesture," he said.
"Those are the main issues -- as well, of course, as the withdrawal of foreign troops. After that, in the later stages, would be talks about the setting up of a joint government."
The chances of a negotiated settlement have grown in recent weeks as the prospect of a military victory for Nato-led forces has diminished.
Earlier this month Mr Karzai inaugurated a jirga, or peace council of tribal elders and former warlords, amid mounting reports that two insurgent groups -- the Taliban of Mullah Omar and the Haqqani network -- had begun talks with Kabul.
Last week it was reported that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, reputed to be the second-in-command of the Afghan Taliban until his arrest, had been spirited from a cell in Pakistan to hold secret talks with officials in Afghanistan.
Mr Baheer said Hizb-i-Islami was in regular contact with government officials but the process was at an early stage. He said little progress could be expected from the Taliban until its leader, Mullah Omar, was included in talks.
The UN sanctions blacklist drawn up in 1999 freezes assets, restricts travel and prohibits arms sales for al-Qa'ida figures including Osama bin Laden, as well as 135 high-ranking members of the former Taliban regime.
They include Mullah Omar, Mullah Baradar and dozens of Taliban commanders who acted as governors when they held power in Afghanistan.
Several Taliban leaders have been removed from the blacklist at Kabul's request as a possible overture to negotiations.
However, the US has ruled out releasing Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo bay.
Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan taken off the list in July, said the withdrawal of Nato troops was a precondition of any settlement talks.
He said: "The Taliban say: 'Until you leave my home I don't want to talk with you. You occupied my home, you captured my home, you captured my dignity. Why should I talk to you? To surrender to you?' The Americans are not ready to talk." (© Daily Telegraph, London)