Top Afghan negotiator optimistic over peace prospects

Tue Jan 1, 2013 12:32am EST
 
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By Michael Georgy and Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) - A top Afghan peace negotiator said he was cautiously optimistic about prospects for reconciliation with the Taliban and that all sides now realized a military solution to the war was not possible.

Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai also told Reuters that the Kabul government hoped to transform the Afghan Taliban, who have proved resilient after more than a decade of war against U.S.-led NATO and Afghan troops, into a political movement.

He predicted the highly lethal Haqqani militant network, the most experienced at guerrilla warfare, would join the peace process if the Afghan Taliban started formal talks.

Signs are emerging that the Afghan government is gaining momentum in its drive to persuade the Taliban to lay down their arms before most NATO combat troops pull out by the end of 2014, a timeline that makes many Afghans nervous.

Members of the Afghan government, the Taliban and some of their old enemies in the Northern Alliance, which fought the Taliban for years, discussed ways of easing the conflict during a recent meeting in France.

"I think one consensus was that everybody acknowledged that nobody will win by military (means)," said Stanekzai, who was badly wounded in a 2011 Taliban suicide bombing attack. "Everybody acknowledged that we have to enter into a meaningful negotiation."

Pakistan, long accused of supporting Afghan insurgents such as the Taliban, has sent the strongest signals yet that it will deliver on promises of helping the Kabul government and the United States bring stability to its neighbor. Pakistan is seen as critical to the process after three decades of upheaval in Afghanistan.

Ten years of Soviet occupation were followed by devastating civil war and the rise of the Taliban, who ruled from 1996 to 2001.   Continued...

 
Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai speaks during an interview in Kabul December 31, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail