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 - Afghan Leaders In Secret Talks With The Taliban

    Afghan Leaders In Secret Talks With The Taliban

    Afghan leader Hamid Karzai has held top secret talks with members of the former Taliban government. The dramatic move could see a return to power of some of the most senior members of the Taliban, once described by Tony Blair as the most evil, brutal regime in the world.

    However President Karzai praised the Taliban's "good elements and said the movement had done a "great service to our war torn country". The interim leader, who is becoming increasingly isolated, has lost all power and influence outside of the capital Kabul. However, news of his attempt to broker a peace deal with his old enemies is bound to cause shock waves across the world.

    The Taliban delegation was led by the former Health Minister Mullah Abbas who was last in the capital as British and American bombs rained down out the outbreak of war in October 2001. The meeting will certainly cause huge embarrassment to British Prime Minister Tony Blair who celebrated the demise of the Taliban so publicly after the fall of Kabul. Foreign Office officials said they were ''aware'' of the peace move but preferred to remain muted last night.

    Although it is quite clear President Karzai's initiative was done with the backing of the Bush Administration, White House spin doctors also remained unusually muted in their response to the meeting. A senior delegation of Taliban, led by Mullah Abbas, slipped in to Kabul for the top secret several days ago after being given assurances of their personal security as some are thought to be on America's "wanted" list.

    "President Karzai appeared to be delighted to see his old Pashtun adversaries in the room. There were a number of respected Afghan scholars also present just to try and keep things civilised in case old arguments got out of hand.

    "Karzai saluted some of the Taliban and said that their movement had done a great service for the country. It was a very tense, and at times emotional, meeting and one of many to come", a Taliban source told Globe-Intel. He said the interim leaders main bodyguards, all American, were kept outside of the meeting, adding: "It was just as well because while there was praise for the Taliban there were few good words for the United States."

    Since the Taliban regime was deposed in November 2001, a US-dominated military coalition of 9000 troops remains, under orders to hunt Taliban and al-Qaeda members. Last week a pocket of Taliban fighters seized control of part of a district in southern Zabul province. American casualties have increased and 10 days ago two US servicemen were killed and five injured in a fire fight near the Pakistani border bringing the number of US dead to more than 80.

    An anti-American wave is also sweeping across the country because of the military presence and a series of US blunders which have led to the deaths of Afghan civilians. These include the death of 11 Afghan children who were killed when a laser guided missile hit their home in Bermil near the Pakistan border as revealed exclusively in the Sunday Express last month.

    US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, on a flying visit to Afghanistan last week, acknowledged there were "still pockets of resistance" but hinted that troops would be pulled out of the country next year. A source close to Hamid Karzai said: "The country is no more at peace now than it was a year ago, in fact in some ways we are even more fragile because good will which was given at the time of the Loya Jirga has now gone.

    "Our attempt to try and persuade 100,000 fighters to disarm and reintegrate them into the Afghan national army is failing because the regional warlords and local militias see it as a threat to their own power. "Unless we make a peace deal with the Taliban we have no hope of restoring
    Afghanistan and no chance of holding elections next year.

    The majority of the Afghan people are still suffering from food shortages, housing, and medical care problems." Continuing American military operations and political uncertainties are increasing tensions across the country which is becoming more unstable by the day. Poppy production for opium, which had been largely stamped out by the Taliban, is now back to its peak as farmers prepare to harvest their crops of death this week. Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is understood to have approved of the meeting taking place. He is thought to be in hiding along the Pakistan border, but prospects of capturing him remain slim. Another Karzai aide commented after the first meeting:

    "He has his back to the wall. Karzai has failed to get a grip on the country and they (the Taliban) are the only ones who can hold anything together here. "He has to talk to them whether he likes it or not - he has no one to support him, all the warlords are against him and there are few of his ministers he can really trust. However there will be an adverse reaction among the ranks of the Mujaheddin, especially the Jamiat-e-Islami faction who were part of the former Northern Alliance. They will not see this as a meeting for reconciliation."

    Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Afghan president's brother, commented recently: "There have been no significant changes for people. People are tired of seeing small, small projects. I don't know what to say to people anymore."

    by Yvonne Ridley

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