KABUL, Feb 16: The US and Afghan governments have begun secret three-way talks with the Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told The Wall Street Journal.
Mr Karzai’s government had previously been excluded from early, exploratory contacts between the Taliban and the United States, with the militants seen as resisting the involvement of a local administration they regard as a puppet of Washington.
But the Journal quoted Mr Karzai on Thursday as saying the Taliban were ‘definitively’ interested in a peace settlement to end the 10-year war in Afghanistan, and that all three sides were now involved in discussions.
“People in Afghanistan want peace, including the Taliban. They’re also people like we all are. They have families, they have relatives, they have children, they are suffering a tough time,” the Journal quoted Mr Karzai as saying in an interview conducted on Wednesday in Kabul.
“There have been contacts between the US government and the Taliban, there have been contacts between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and there have been some contacts that we have made, all of us together, including the Taliban.”
The newspaper said Mr Karzai had declined to specify the location of the talks or go into further details, saying he feared this could damage the process.
Mr Karzai did not mention any Pakistani involvement in the Taliban talks, but said Islamabad’s cooperation “would make the whole matter easier for us, for the Taliban, and for the US”.
The Taliban said last month that they planned to set up a political office in Qatar ahead of possible formal talks with the United States. Afghan and US officials have said that exploratory contacts are already under way.
To build confidence, US President Barack Obama’s administration has confirmed tentative talks with the Taliban on a possible transfer of five inmates from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar, and on potential local ceasefires with the militia.
Washington wants to accelerate the fragile talks with the Taliban so it can announce serious peace negotiations at a Nato summit in May, officials say, in what will be a welcome bright spot in western efforts to end the war in Afghanistan.
The United States hopes it can declare a start to authentic political negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban at the May 20-21 summit in Chicago, after a year of initial, uncertain contacts with militant representatives.—Agencies