Taliban threaten Afghan peace talks
Posted: Wednesday, June 2, 2010 8:01 pm
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban on Tuesday dismissed this week’s national peace conference in Afghanistan even before it had begun, threatening death to the 1,600 delegates in cassette messages distributed by the insurgent leadership.
The three-day meeting, which began today in a giant tent at Kabul Polytechnic University, will discuss how to reconcile with the fighters — even as the U.S. rushes in more troops to ramp up the nearly nine-year war. But the meeting could also open fissures in a society deeply divided after decades of conflict.
President Hamid Karzai will use the conference, known as a “peace jirga,” to seek endorsement of his plan to offer economic incentives to Taliban and other insurgent fighters willing to leave the battlefield.
On the eve of the conference, the Taliban said in a statement to news organizations that the jirga does not represent the Afghan people and was aimed at “securing the interest of foreigners.”
It said the participants “are on the payroll of the invaders and work for their interests.”
To reinforce the message, a cassette recording was circulated last week by courier within the Taliban’s underground government, in which the chairman of the Taliban council, Mullah Abdul Ghani, warned that “the punishment for participating in the jirga is death.”
Information about the cassette was provided to The Associated Press by a Taliban member whose information has proven reliable over many years.
Another major insurgent group, Hizb-i-Islami led by ex-Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, called the conference “a useless exercise” because “only hand-picked people” were invited.
One of the delegates told the AP that he took the Taliban threat seriously, though he still planned to attend. He refused to allow his name to be published, explaining that “if they know that I am attending there will be a suicide bomber outside my door.”
Nevertheless, Karzai is hoping the jirga will bolster him politically by supporting his strategy of offering incentives to individual Taliban fighters and reaching out to the insurgent leadership, despite skepticism in Washington that the time is right for an overture to militant leaders.
“This is a positive first step because everybody realizes war is not the solution. We have to have a political solution,” said Hamid Gailani, a prominent lawmaker from southern Afghanistan. “If there is no sound understanding and cooperation between the Afghan government and the coalition forces, then God save us all.”
Some members of Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities also fear Karzai may be too eager to sell out their interests in hopes of cutting a deal with the Taliban, who, like him, are Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group.
Published in The Messenger 6.2.10