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Afghanistan’s Karzai Says Taliban Have Met His Team in Talks

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office said Taliban negotiators have met his representatives for peace talks even after publicly rejecting any role for his government in efforts to end the war.

“Both face-to-face and telephone discussions have been held recently with senior Taliban officials,” said Aimal Faizi, the director of communications at the Afghan presidency. “The meetings have been held in Afghanistan and abroad,” and have included U.S. officials in three-way talks, he said in a phone interview today.

The Taliban movement has in the past said that it won’t talk to Karzai because it regards him as a puppet of the U.S.- led forces in Afghanistan. Cellphones of Taliban spokesmen were switched off when called today.

Karzai arrived in Pakistan for talks with President Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Pakistan’s GEO television channel reported. The talks are to focus on regional security issues, according to Pakistani officials cited by the official news agency, Associated Press of Pakistan.

While Zardari’s civilian administration has said Pakistan will facilitate Karzai’s talks with the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan’s foreign and security policies are dominated by the country’s army. The military offers support to Taliban factions in hopes of using them to retain leverage in Afghanistan, according to statements last year by the serving chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.

Impact Unlikely

“Karzai’s latest talks with the Taliban are unlikely to have a directly positive impact on the conflict,” said Waheed Mujda, a former Taliban official who is an analyst at the independent Kabul Center for Strategic Studies. “Karzai himself has met this year in Kabul with Agha Jan Motasim, the former finance minister of the Taliban government” that ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, Mujda said.

While Motasim also is a relative of Mullah Omar, the movement’s top leader, he has been pushed out of the movement’s current leadership and may not be able to authoritatively represent it, Mujda said in a phone interview.

Obama administration officials have said in the past year they have had direct contacts with the Taliban as the U.S. draws down its forces in Afghanistan and hands security duties to Afghan army and police forces. The guerrilla movement said last month it had reached an initial agreement with Qatar to open an office in the Gulf state to facilitate negotiations.

The U.S. is considering the transfer of five Taliban prisoners to Qatar from its Guantanamo Bay military prison to encourage those talks, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in Washington Feb. 2.

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