Afghan lead­ers, Tal­iban talk reg­u­larly

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Kathy Gan­non

De­spite stalled peace talks, of­fi­cials say the in­tel­li­gence chief speaks with mil­i­tant lead­ers nearly ev­ery day about the coun­try’s future.

ISLAMABAD — De­spite seem­ingly stalled peace talks be­tween Afghanistan’s gov­ern­ment and the Tal­iban, of­fi­cials say the in­tel­li­gence chief speaks by tele­phone with mil­i­tant lead­ers nearly ev­ery day about the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion and po­lit­i­cal future.

In ad­di­tion, Afghanistan’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser has con­ver­sa­tions with the Tal­iban ev­ery other month, of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the ef­forts said.

The As­so­ci­ated Press has seen doc­u­ments de­scrib­ing the con­ver­sa­tions be­tween the Afghan of­fi­cials and the Tal­iban lead­er­ship in Pak­istan and the Gulf state of Qatar, where they main­tain an of­fice.

While Afghan of­fi­cials said nei­ther side was ready to agree to pub­lic peace talks, the doc­u­ments re­vealed de­tails of the is­sues dis­cussed, in­clud­ing the Tal­iban’s ap­par­ent will­ing­ness to ac­cept Afghanistan’s con­sti­tu­tion and future elec­tions.

A se­nior Afghan se­cu­rity of­fi­cial, who had taken notes on the de­tails of talks, ri­fled through a black leather-bound book un­til he came to a list he called “Tal­iban talk­ing points.”

The Afghan se­cu­rity of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to talk to the me­dia, said the Tal­iban wanted cer­tain amend­ments to the con­sti­tu­tion — although not im­me­di­ately. They also en­vi­sioned an Is­lamic sys­tem of gover­nance in Afghanistan, he said.

Among the Tal­iban’s de­mands, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial:

They ac­cepted ed­u­ca­tion for boys and girls at all lev­els, but wanted seg­re­ga­tion by gen­der.

Women could be em­ployed in all fields, in­clud­ing de­fense and the ju­di­ciary, and they could serve as judges at all lev­els ex­cept the Supreme Court. How­ever, the Tal­iban wanted con­sti­tu­tional guar­an­tees that a wo­man could not be pres­i­dent.

Spe­cial courts should be es­tab­lished to over­see thou­sands of cases that al­lege land was taken il­le­gally by the rich and pow­er­ful in the post-Tal­iban era. The Tal­iban wants the land re­turned to those from whom it was taken.

Elec­tions could be held af­ter an in­terim gov­ern­ment is es­tab­lished, with no one af­fil­i­ated with past gov­ern­ments al­lowed to serve in the in­terim ad­min­is­tra­tion. The Tal­iban said all sides could keep ar­eas un­der their con­trol un­til vot­ing is held.

Of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the con­ver­sa­tions said in­tel­li­gence chief Ma­soum Stanikzai has near daily tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions with Tal­iban leader Ab­bas Stanikzai, who is not re­lated to him.

Na­tional Se­cu­rity ad­viser Mo­hammed Ha­neef At­mar’s of­fice re­fused re­quests to com­ment on re­ports of his con­tacts with the Tal­iban in Doha, Qatar.

The Tal­iban came to power in 1996 af­ter push­ing aside the U.S.backed mu­ja­hedeen fight­ers who de­feated Afghanistan’s Com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment. The mu­ja­hedeen then turned their weapons on each other, killing thou­sands of civil­ians and de­stroy­ing en­tire neigh­bor­hoods in the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kabul. Their rule also was marked by wide­spread cor­rup­tion.

Last week, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump an­nounced a new strat­egy in Afghanistan and South Asia. He said U.S. troops would “fight to win” by at­tack­ing en­e­mies, “crush­ing” al-Qaida, pre­vent­ing ter­ror­ist at­tacks against Amer­i­cans and “oblit­er­at­ing” the Is­lamic State, whose af­fil­i­ate has gained a foothold in Afghanistan as the U.S. squeezes the ex­trem­ists in Syria and Iraq.

Trump hinted he would em­braced the Pen­tagon's pro­posal to boost troop num­bers by nearly 4,000, aug­ment­ing the 8,400 Amer­i­cans there now.

But the Tal­iban told AP they were not in­ter­ested in talks.

A mem­ber of the Afghan gov­ern­ment's High Peace Coun­cil, Ab­dul Hakim Mu­ja­hed said it is un­likely the Tal­iban will en­ter talks without a guar­an­tee of an even­tual U.S. troop with­drawal.

“They have moved away from de­mand­ing im­me­di­ate with­drawal but they want a dis­cus­sion with the Amer­i­cans on a timetable,” he said.

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AP

Afghan com­man­dos train Sun­day in Hel­mand prov­ince. The U.S. is plan­ning to boost troop lev­els in that coun­try.

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