Differences remain at Afghan peace conference

Hundreds of Afghan leaders held hours of talks on Thursday on ways to end the insurgency wracking their country, but remained divided over whether to reach out to Taliban leaders and a host of other issues.

Kabul: Hundreds of Afghan leaders held hours
of talks on Thursday on ways to end the insurgency wracking their
country, but remained divided over whether to reach out to
Taliban leaders and a host of other issues.

Discussions meant to guide President Hamid Karzai`s next
steps toward ending nearly nine years of war ranged from
strengthening Islamic law to the role of the United Nations
and the tens of thousands of NATO forces in the country,
delegates told agency.
Ethnic and political fissures opened up in committee
sessions held today, the second day of the peace conference,
or jirga, which is to end tomorrow.

Some 1,500 religious, tribal, provincial and other
leaders invited by the government are to issue a joint
statement tomorrow. It is sure to endorse peace in general
terms, but any other details were unclear late today.

Some delegates said the jirga appeared doomed to achieve
little.
There was general support for Karzai`s desire to offer
rank-and-file members of the insurgency amnesty and other
incentives to lay down their arms, but delegates were split
over the thornier issue of whether the government should
negotiate directly with Taliban leaders.

The Taliban have dismissed the jirga as a "phony
reconciliation process" stacked with Karzai`s supporters. They
insist they will not negotiate until all foreign troops leave
the country.

The militants underscored their opposition by launching a
rocket and suicide bomb attack on the meeting as it opened
yesterday. Two militants were killed and three civilians
injured, but no delegates were harmed and the jirga went
ahead.

Karzai met with leaders of a Taliban-allied group,
Hizb-i-Islami, last March and has repeatedly said Taliban
leader Mullah Mohammed Omar should be invited for talks if he
accepts the Afghan constitution and renounces al-Qaida.

Kabul lawmaker Syed Hassain Alumi Balkhi was among jirga
delegates who agreed, saying, "We have to have direct talks
with the leaders or there will be no peace."

Lal Mohammed, a delegate representing about 1.2 million
Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, said all Taliban prisoners
should be freed "to create an atmosphere for talks." "Unless
we can offer them some guarantees, they won`t talk peace," he
said.

But Gul Agha Pirzada, a delegate from northern Takhar
province, wanted no mention of talks with Taliban leaders in
the final statement.

"We want peace, but these leaders have killed innocent
people and they are with al-Qaida," he said.

PTI

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