Some in Taliban ready for ceasefire - report


SOME SENIOR Taliban figures are ready to negotiate a ceasefire and might be ready to accept a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan as part of a comprehensive peace deal, according to a report to be published today based on interviews with Taliban officials and negotiators.

The Royal United Services Institute report finds elements in the Taliban are determined to break with al-Qaeda as part of a settlement, and is open to negotiation on education for girls. It is adamantly opposed to the Afghan constitution, which it sees as a prop for President Hamid Karzai’s government.

Taliban insurgents will not negotiate with the Karzai government, largely because of its record of corruption. They do not trust Kabul to run fair elections, which suggests that, even if the moderates interviewed in the study prevailed in the Taliban, serious obstacles to a peace deal would remain.

The institute’s report is the product of interviews with four unnamed figures, two of whom were ministers in the former Taliban government and are still close to the inner circle of leadership.

One is described as “closely associated” with Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader. Another is portrayed as “a senior former mujahideen commander and lead negotiator for the Taliban”, although not part of the movement itself.

The report concludes: “The Taliban would be open to negotiating a ceasefire as part of a general settlement, and also as a bridge between confidence-building measures and the core issue of the distribution of political power in Afghanistan. A ceasefire would require strong Islamic justification, obscuring any hint of surrender.”

Even more surprising, in view of the official Taliban propaganda portraying it as leading a struggle against foreign invaders, the report says the insurgents are “prepared to accept a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan”.

According to one interviewee, described as a founder member of the Taliban, a settlement that left US troops operating out of five primary military bases – Kandahar, Herat, Jalalabad, Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul – might be acceptable as long as the US presence “does not impinge on our independence and religion”. In other words, the Taliban might accept continuing US counter-terrorist operations targeting their former ally, al-Qaeda, as long as the bases were not used as a launching pad for attacks on other countries or for interference in Afghan politics.

The report even suggests the Taliban would co-operate in tracking down al-Qaeda, noting the leadership and base “deeply regret” their past association with the global jihadist group.

Former EU envoy to Afghanistan and report co-author Michael Semple said the interviewees represented a significant but not yet dominant strand of Taliban views. – (Guardian service)