Taliban denies negotiations with Afghan government
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REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN, AND KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- The Taliban movement on Thursday strongly denied participating in secret talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government, even as the Afghan leader sought help from Pakistani officials to facilitate peace talks.
“We have not decided to negotiate with the Karzai regime,” said spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid. He called the Karzai administration “impotent” and accused the Afghan leader of wanting “to extend his foreign-backed power for a few more days.”
“This false campaign will fail,” he said.
Karzai’s visit to Islamabad, the Pakistan capital, Thursday came amid reports that he had said in an interview that the U.S. and Afghan governments had begun secret talks with the Afghan Taliban insurgency. In recent months, U.S. officials have been meeting with Taliban envoys to discuss the establishment of a Taliban office in the gulf state of Qatar.
But late Thursday, the Taliban issued its statement denying negotiations. Previously, the Taliban leadership has dismissed Karzai as a “puppet” and publicly indicated willingness to hold contacts only with the Americans and the West.
A member of the Karzai-appointed body set up in 2010 to try to begin negotiations with the Taliban, Haji Musa Hotak, had said the Taliban position had changed.
“The Taliban have stopped insisting on talking to the U.S. and not the Afghan government,” he said. “Now the Taliban are saying they are ready to talk with the Afghan government face to face. They said they will talk to both Americans and the Afghan government.”
Karzai held separate meetings with Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari. He also met with Zardari and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who also arrived in Islamabad on Thursday.
--Alex Rodriguez and Laura King