Afghan gathering agrees peace moves with Taliban
By Sayed Salahuddin and Hamid Shalizi
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan tribal elders and religious leaders agreed Friday to make peace with the Taliban, handing President Hamid Karzai a mandate to open negotiations with the insurgents who are fighting foreign forces and his government.
Karzai had called the "peace jirga" to win national support for his plan to offer an amnesty, cash and job incentives to Taliban foot soldiers while arranging asylum for top figures in a second country and getting their names struck off a U.N. and U.S. blacklist.
"Now the path is clear, the path that has been shown and chosen by you, we will go on that step-by-step and this path will Inshallah, take us to our destination," he told the delegates gathered in a tent under heavy security.
He urged the Taliban, who have virtually fought tens of thousands of U.S.-led NATO forces and the Afghan army to a bloody stalemate, to stop fighting.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon welcomed the decisions of the three-day jirga, saying it was a significant step toward reaching out to all Afghans to promote peace and stability.
"The United Nations supports these national efforts to end conflict in Afghanistan, and remains fully committed to working with the Afghan authorities as they strive for a peaceful life," he said in a statement.
But there were few signs that the Taliban, who have dismissed the jirga as a phoney American-inspired show to perpetuate their involvement in the country, were ready to respond to the peace offer.
WITHDRAW FOREIGN FORCES OR NO TALKS Continued...