'Afghan Taliban open to peace talks; Haqqani, al Qaeda not'

 More than half of the Taliban insurgents could be open to peace talks with the Afghan government, but the dreaded Haqqani network and the al-Qaeda are not as open to such reconciliation processes in the war- torn country, the top US commander in Afghanistan has said.

PTI| Updated: Oct 09, 2015, 00:10 AM IST

Washington:  More than half of the Taliban insurgents could be open to peace talks with the Afghan government, but the dreaded Haqqani network and the al-Qaeda are not as open to such reconciliation processes in the war- torn country, the top US commander in Afghanistan has said.

"The estimates I've heard, both from an Afghan perspective and probably from the Intel community, is anywhere between 60 and 70 per cent (that are) potentially reconcilable on the Taliban side," Gen John F Campbell told the House Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing.

He said that the Haqqani network, responsible for many attacks on US-led coalition forces and suicide bombings, as well as the al-Qaida in Afghanistan are not as open to peace.

"You probably would not have Haqqani, who continues to be an enemy, and is dangerous to both the coalition (and) the Afghan civilians because they attack civilians; they're the ones that are responsible for the high-profile attacks in Kunduz," Campbell said.

"Haqqani probably would not reconcile, and there's probably members of A.Q. That would not reconcile," he said.

Campbell also told the Congressmen that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has "spent a lot of political capital" to try to work with Pakistan on the reconciliation process.

"He (Ghani) has not seen a lot in return, therefore he's taken, again, a lot of challenges from within his own government, but I think he's been very courageous in how he has reached out," Campbell said.

He, however, acknowledged that negotiations probably won't resume for months. "It's going to take some time to bring the right people to the table."

Campbell said it is going to take both Afghanistan and Pakistan working together, although Ghani has said many times that the reconciliation process will be Afghan-led.

In the backdrop of an upsurge in violence, Campbell said Afghanistan is at a "critical moment" in its history.

"An upsurge in insurgent violence in northern Helmand and Kunduz shows that Afghanistan is at a critical moment in their history," he said.

He also made a case for more American forces to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2016, when President Barack Obama wants to drawdown their numbers to about 1,000 troops.

He also warned about the rise of Islamic State militants in Afghanistan, and said he has "offered his chain of command several options for a future laydown in 2016 and beyond."

"It was envisioned in mid-2014 that we would transition to a normalised embassy presence by January of 2017," he said.

"Since that time, much has changed. We've seen the rise of Daesh or ISIL, an increased Al Qaida presence in Afghanistan due to Pakistan military operations, and now we have a strong partner in President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah.

"And as a result, I put forward recommendations to adjust to this new environment, while addressing our core missions of train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces, and to conduct counter-terrorism operations to protect the homeland," he said.