In a move to find a political solution to the war, the Afghan government on Tuesday set up a 70-member peace council, formalizing efforts already under way to reconcile with top Taliban leaders and lure insurgent foot soldiers off the battlefield.
A political resolution to the 9-year war is a key to any U.S. exit strategy in Afghanistan. Still, leaders of ethnic minorities, including some named to the peace council, remain concerned that negotiating with the Taliban will open a path for the hardline fundamentalist group to regain power.
President Hamid Karzai has long said that he will talk to insurgents who renounce violence, sever ties to terrorists and embrace the Afghan constitution. Publicly, the Taliban have responded, saying they won’t negotiate until foreign troops leave the country, yet there are many indications that backdoor discussions have occurred.
Waheed Omar, spokesman for Karzai, said the new High Council for Peace will guide future contacts with Taliban leaders who have reached out directly or through back channels to the highest levels of the government.
“In the past there have been no negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban — only some contacts and some signs from both sides,” Omar said, declining to elaborate.
“With the announcement of the peace council, I don’t think it will be wise to have back channels,” he said. “The council will be the sole body to take care of peace talks and the government of Afghanistan will respect its mandate and will not try to create back channels or try to duplicate the work of the High Council for Peace.”
Omar denied that President Barack Obama’s announced goal to start withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan in July 2011, if conditions allow, spurred the Afghan government to set up the council or reach out to the Taliban.
“For the people of Afghanistan, peace is a need and we want to pursue it in any case,” Omar said. “It has no relation with any other announcement. It has no relation with withdrawal or with the presence of international forces here in Afghanistan.”