Dawn, February 27, 2009

Western officials, Taliban engaged in secret talks

According to information revealed to Al Jazeera, Hekmatyar would be offered asylum in Saudi Arabia, after which he would be allowed to return to Afghanistan with immunity from prosecution.

By Syed Rashid Husain

Western officials, the Afghan government and Taliban-linked mediators have been engaged in secret negotiations to bring elements of the group into Afghanistan’s political process, the Al Jazeera netwrok is reporting.

The talks are reportedly taking place in Dubai, London and Afghanistan since the beginning of the year and revolve around the return of Gulbaldin Hekmatyar, the former Afghan prime minister, who has been in hiding for seven years, to Afghanistan.

Ghairat Baheer son-in-law of Hekmatyar being welcomed
Pakistani supporters receive Ghairat Baheer, son-in-law of anti-US Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar upon his arrival from Kabul, Afghanistan at Peshawar airport in Pakistan. Baheer was released from a jail in Kabul. – AP/File photo.

Ghairat Baheer, one of Hektmatyar’s two son-in-laws, released from the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in May last year after six years in custody, is involved in the process, according to reports. Baheer was ambassador to Pakistan in the 1990s. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 while he was a spokesman for the Hizb-e-Islami militant group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Humayun Jarir, a Kabul-based politician and the other son-in-law of Hekmatyar, is also said have been in involved in the talks.

Hekmatyar is the leader of the Hezb-i-Islami forces, a faction of Afghanistan’s Hezb-i-Islami party, and is purported to be in the northwest tribal region of Pakistan.

Agents from MI6 entered secret talks with Taliban leaders despite Gordon Brown's pledge that Britain would not negotiate with terrorists, The Daily Telegraph can disclose. Officers from the Secret Intelligence Service staged discussions, known as "jirgas", with senior insurgents on several occasions over the summer.
The Telegraph, December 25, 2007

His forces fight alongside the Taliban and are considered to be a terrorist organisation by the United States forces in Afghanistan.

According to information revealed to Al Jazeera, Hekmatyar would be offered asylum in Saudi Arabia, after which he would be allowed to return to Afghanistan with immunity from prosecution. The British government is backing that element of the deal, Al Jazeera said quoting sources.

James Bays, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Kabul is of the opinion that there is a possibility that these talks could be widened further so as to bring in elements of the Taliban.’ It is not clear whether the secret negotiations were aimed at separating Hekmatyar’s Taliban-linked faction from the group, or whether to encourage some elements of the Taliban to join the political process.

Mullah Mottawakil, a former Taliban foreign minister, said the talks would fail if the plan was to split the Taliban. ‘It will not benefit anyone if Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president brings one part of the Taliban into the government, and leaves the other part behind. It will not finish the war.’

Karzai has long proposed holding talks with the Taliban. Should secret talks be taking place without his knowledge, it is likely to undermine him and further sour relations between the US and Afghanistan.

Al Jazeera has also learned this is not the first time in recent months that talks between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives have been attempted.

Last year, Ahmed Jan, an intermediary for the Taliban and tribal elder from Helmand province, was sent on behalf of the Taliban to Kabul for talks with the Afghan government. However, Jan was arrested after US officials discovered talks were to take place, and is now being held in US custody at Bagram, an Afghan political figure told Al Jazeera.

With the arrival in Kabul last month of Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan of the new administration of Barack Obama, the US president’s resistance to talks with the Taliban may change.

Ahmadshah Ahmadzai, another former Afghan prime minister, said trying to bring all Afghan parties – including Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader - to the negotiating table was the only option.

‘If Mullah Omar agrees (to talks) and those around him do - this is the real Taliban faction - then they can bring peace.’

Patricia Degennaro, a professor at the Centre for Global Affairs at New York University, told Al Jazeera that talks were a central part of ending the conflict.

Degennaro said: ‘It’s really important to at least test the waters and see what’s happening, and what response we’re going to get, which is probably what they’re doing right now.’

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