Washington: The US has accelerated direct
talks with the Taliban that American officials hope will
enable President Barack Obama to report progress towards a
settlement of the Afghanistan war when he announces troop
withdrawals in July, a media report today said.
A US representative attended at least three meetings
in Qatar and Germany, one as recently as "eight or nine days
ago," with a Taliban official considered close to Mullah
Mohammad Omar, the group`s leader, the Washington Post quoted
an unnamed senior Afghan official as saying.
However, State Department spokesman Michael A Hammer
did not comment on the Afghan official`s assertion, but said
the US had a "broad range of contacts across Afghanistan and
the region, at many levels... We`re not going to get into the
details of those contacts".
The daily said the talks, initiated several months
ago, have proceeded on several tracks, including through
non-governmental intermediaries and Arab and European
The Taliban has made clear its preference for direct
negotiations with the Americans and has proposed establishing
a formal political office, with Qatar under consideration as a
venue, according to US officials.
An attempt to open talks with the insurgent group
failed late last year when an alleged Taliban leader, secretly
flown by NATO to Kabul, turned out to be a fraud. "Nobody
wants to do that again," a senior Obama administration
Other earlier meetings between Afghan government
representatives and Taliban delegates faltered when the
self-professed insurgents could not establish their bona fide
as representatives of the group`s leadership, the daily said.
But the Obama administration is "getting more sure"
that the contacts currently underway are with those who have a
direct line to Omar and influence in the Pakistan-based Quetta
Shura, or ruling council he heads, according to one of several
senior US officials who discussed the closely held initiative
only on the condition of anonymity.
American officials hope these talks will enable Obama
to report progress towards a settlement of the Afghanistan war
as the July deadline to begin troop withdrawals nears.
The officials cautioned that the discussions were
preliminary. But they said "exploratory" conversations, first
reported in February by the New Yorker magazine, have advanced
significantly in terms of the substance and the willingness of
both sides to engage, the daily reported.
Rumours of the talks have brought a torrent of
criticism in recent weeks from Afghan President Hamid Karzai`s
political opponents, who say that he will ultimately
compromise Afghan democracy.
The Taliban, one US official said, is "going to have
to talk to both the Afghans and the Americans" if the process
is to proceed to the point that it would significantly affect
the level of violence and provide what the Taliban considers
an acceptable share of political power in Afghanistan.