French police officers guard the entrance of the Hotel Chateau de la Tour where Afghan officials are meeting with Taliban rebels in Gouvieux Chantilly, 50 km (31 miles) north of Paris, Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. – AP Photo

KABUL: Afghanistan's Taliban has called for a new constitution as a pre-condition for it joining the nation's fledgling peace process, according to a declaration issued by representatives at a landmark meeting in France.

Representatives from the country's warring factions met Thursday for two days of talks that diplomats hope will bolster relations in the war-torn country.

It is the first time since a US-led bombing campaign drove the Taliban from power in 2001 that senior representatives have sat down with officials from the government and other opposition groups to discuss the country's future, in a meeting brokered by a French think tank.

“Afghanistan's present constitution has no value for us because it was made under the shadows of B52 bombers of the invaders,” said the declaration, which was handed to participants during the meeting and later released to the media.

“Islamic Emirate, for the welfare of their courageous nation, need a constitution that is based on the principles of the holy religion of Islam, national interest, historical achievements, and social justice,” it read.

The meeting in France was organised by the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), and was held behind closed doors at an undisclosed location near Paris.

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.

Karzai's government has drawn up a roadmap for peace which involves persuading the Taliban and other insurgent groups to agree to a ceasefire as a prelude to becoming peaceful players in the country's nascent democracy.

As a first step in that direction, Karzai's administration has been attempting to secure the release of top Taliban prisoners held by neighbouring Pakistan.

Despite the landmark meeting, the Taliban's declaration continued to display a lack of trust in the government.

“The invaders and their friends don't have a clear roadmap for peace,” it stated.

“Sometimes they say we want to talk to the Islamic Emirate, but sometimes they say we will talk with Pakistan. This kind of vague stance will never get to peace,” it said.

To date the Taliban has refused to negotiate with the government, which it regards as a puppet of the United States. Discussions with American officials were suspended in March.

In France the Taliban was represented by their senior figures Shahabuddin Dilawar and Naeem Wardak, a move seen as a sign that the Islamist group is contemplating going beyond exploratory discussions.

The Taliban, who ruled in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, were ousted from power by a US-led invasion and have since waged an 11-year insurgency to topple the US-supported government of Hamid Karzai.


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