Overcoming The Gloom
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Afghans expect more talks with ex-Taliban
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan government representatives and former members of the Taliban are expected to meet in Saudi Arabia soon for their second talks on a way to end the war in Afghanistan, an Afghan government official said on Wednesday.
The senior official, with knowledge of meetings on talking to the Taliban, said President Hamid Karzai, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari Karzai had discussed the effort on the sidelines of a U.N. conference in New York last week.
A tentative first step towards talks was taken in September when pro-government Afghan officials and former Taliban met in Saudi Arabia.
The Taliban derided the talks and have said repeatedly they would not enter negotiations as long as foreign troops remained in Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, the September meeting offered a glimmer of hope of ending an intensifying Taliban insurgency that has raised fears for Afghanistan's prospects and Western efforts to establish peace and build a stable state.
The government official declined to be identified and also declined to give any details of the talks or say when they would be held.
"It is expected very much to be held in Saudi Arabia again," he said. "Talks will not bear fruit when held in an open manner. This is an ongoing process and we will announce the results when there is a breakthrough."
He said he did not know if the Taliban would send a representative: "It is not clear, but when peace is the aim, then all should be present."
With the spread of Taliban insurgency more than seven years on since their overthrow and no sight of an end to the conflict, the possibility of talks with the insurgents is being considered by Karzai's government and his Western allies.
"NOT THERE YET"
Pakistan, the United Arab Emirate and Saudi Arabia were the main supporters of the Taliban when they ruled from 1996 to 2001. The Taliban were overthrown by U.S.-led troops in 2001, weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Violence this year in Afghanistan has been the bloodiest since then. About 70,000 foreign troops, 32,000 of them American, are struggling against the Taliban, whose influence and attacks are spreading in the south, east and west.
Karzai says the Taliban demand that foreign troops leave is unacceptable but he repeated on Sunday an offer to talk to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who carries a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head and is seen as close to Osama bin Laden.
The Taliban rejected the offer.
Analysts say the government and its Western allies are hoping to draw moderate Taliban, or perhaps opportunistic commanders, into talks to isolate al Qaeda and their hardline supporters.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon briefing on Monday talks with militants willing to reconcile were part of the process, but he thought the time was not right.
"At least from my perspective, we're not there yet," he said.
Asked if it was a good idea to approach Mullah Omar, Mullen said that was up to Karzai.
The Taliban threatened to launch attacks in Paris unless France pulls its troops out of Afghanistan, in a video aired by Al Arabiya television on Monday.
The video also claimed an ambush that killed 10 French troops in August was carried out by the Taliban. It was not clear when the recording, which included footage of insurgents wearing uniforms of the French soldiers they had killed, was made.
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