`Majority of Taliban wants peace settlement`

Agha Jan Motasim nearly lost his life in a hail of bullets for advocating a negotiated settlement.

Kabul: One of the most powerful men on the Taliban council, Agha Jan Motasim, nearly lost his life in a hail of bullets for advocating a negotiated settlement that would bring a broad-based government to his beleaguered homeland of Afghanistan.

In an exclusive and rare interview by a member of the so-called Quetta Shura, Motasim told a news agency a majority of Taliban wants a peace settlement and that there are only "a few" hardliners in the movement.

"There are two kinds of Taliban. The one type of Taliban who believes that the foreigners want to solve the problem but there is another group and they don`t believe, and they are thinking that the foreigners only want to fight," he said by telephone.

"I can tell you, though, that the majority of the Taliban and the Taliban leadership want a broad-based government for all Afghan people and an Islamic system like other Islamic countries."

But Motasim chastised the West, singling out the United States and Britain, for failing to bolster the moderates within the fundamentalist Islamic movement by refusing to recognise the Taliban as a political identity and backtracking on promises - all of which he said strengthens the hardliners and weakens moderates like himself.

He lamented yesterday`s assassination in Kabul of Arsala Rahmani, a member of the Afghan government-appointed peace council who was active in trying to set up formal talks with insurgents. Rahmani served as deputy minister of higher education in the former Taliban regime but later reconciled with the current Afghan government.

"He was a nationalist. We respected him," Motasim said.

Motasim used his own stature to press for talks nearly three years before the United States began making overtures to the Taliban in late 2010.

At the time, he was also chief of the Taliban political committee, a powerful position that he held until he was shot last August. He is still a member of the Taliban leadership council, the Quetta Shura, named after the Pakistani city of the same name.

His voice softened and he paused often as he reflected on the brutal shooting in the port city of Karachi, Pakistan, where he lived, while moving regularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan in areas that he refused to identify.

Several bullets shattered his body and he was hospitalised for many weeks. In the first days after the shooting, he wasn`t expected to survive.

The agency spoke to Motasim from Turkey where he had gone for additional treatment. When speaking of his attackers, he referred to them as brothers and colleagues, saying they may have been Taliban hardliners who opposed his moderate positions.

"My idea was I wanted a broad-based government, all political parties together and maybe some hardliners among the Taliban in Afghanistan and in Pakistan didn`t like to hear this and so they attacked me," he said.


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