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'UK holds indirect talks with Taliban'

June 14, 2004

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LAHORE, June 13: The UK has started holding indirect talks with the Taliban to seek an "honourable" exit from Afghanistan, MMA secretary-general Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who is mediating between the two, told Dawn by phone here on Sunday.

The Maulana feels that the British authorities are working on behalf of the United States and this indirect process has been chosen to avoid any ill-effects on forthcoming presidential elections. The polls are to be held on Nov 2.

UK foreign minister Jack Straw during his recent visit to Islamabad had called on Maulana Fazl, who is also opposition leader in the National Assembly, to initiate the talks process.

After contacting and getting a go-ahead signal from the Taliban, the Maulana then had suddenly left for Britain at a time when the MMA, of which he is secretary-general, had announced a long march on Wana against ongoing army operation launched for pushing out "foreign militants" taking refuge there.

During his three-day stay in London, he held several meetings with officials of foreign and interior ministries as well as of secret agencies, Maulana Fazl said. He is scheduled to call on UK high commissioner in Islamabad in early July before leaving for London later in the month to further discuss possibilities and modalities of direct talks between the two parties.

A JUI official confided to this reporter that the Taliban are so far reluctant to come forward directly as they have lost confidence in Pakistan authorities who had handed over their diplomat in Islamabad Mullah Zaeef to the US two years ago against all diplomatic norms and international laws.

If the talks proved successful and the US was provided a face- saving exit plan, it will not only bring to an end the war going on in Afghanistan rather it will also have positive impacts on the region, especially on internal situation of Pakistan, the Maulana hopes.