No preconditions in talks with Taliban, government says

KABUL (AFP) – The Afghan government strongly rejected Tuesday any conditions for peace talks with the Taliban after the Islamic militants demanded the withdrawal of Western troops as a prerequisite for dialogue.The government would guarantee safe passage for Taliban negotiators at any talks but this was all, President Hamid Karzai’s senior spokesman told reporters.

“The Afghan government is not open to negotiations with any preconditions,” Homayun Hamidzada said.

“The only precondition would be a security guarantee for their negotiators.”

In an apparent drawdown from earlier remarks that the Taliban was ready for talks, a spokesman said at the weekend the Islamic rebels would only begin dialogue if it resulted in the withdrawal of nearly 50,000 mostly Western troops here.

“If these talks… rescue our country’s independence and result in finding a way for the withdrawal of foreign forces, (Taliban) are ready to participate,” the Taliban’s main spokesman, Yousuf Ahmadi, said in a statement.

The Taliban, removed from government six years ago, are waging a bloody insurgency that has killed more than 5,000 people this year alone, with most of the dead rebel fighters.

Karzai has regularly offered negotiations with the Taliban but he has suggested this does not include the leaders of the insurgency, who are allied with Al-Qaeda and wanted by the United States.

Hamidzada said the negotiations were aimed at “Afghan Taliban” and “not those who are the servants of strangers and foreigners” — a likely reference to Al-Qaeda or Pakistan, where radical elements are said to support the Taliban.

The Taliban insurgency has redoubled in the past two years and there is general agreement it cannot be ended through military means, with a steady supply of rebel reinforcements available from inside and outside the country.

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