Afghan President Hamid Karzai met a senior delegation for peace talks with one of the main insurgent groups fighting against his government and foreign troops, Karzai’s spokesman said yesterday.
Although the talks with delegates from the Hezb-i-Islami group appeared to be preliminary, it was Karzai’s first confirmed direct contact with the faction and could signal prospects for a separate peace with a group that rivals the Taliban.
“I can confirm that a delegation of Hezb-i-Islami … is in Kabul with a plan and has met with the president,” Karzai spokesman Waheed Omer said.
A spokesman for Hezb-i-Islami said it was the first time the group had sent senior envoys to Kabul for peace talks. They had brought a 15-point peace plan that includes a demand for withdrawal of foreign troops, said Haroun Zarghoun, spokesman for the group’s fugitive leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami has shared some of the aims of the Taliban, but has led a separate insurgency mainly in the east and pockets of the north of the country. In recent months Taliban fighters have pushed into Hezb-i-Islami strongholds, leading to clashes between fighters from the two groups.
The delegation is led by Qutbuddin Helal, a former prime minister and deputy to Hekmatyar, and also includes Hekmatyar’s son-in-law, Zarghoun said.
“The main point of the plan is the withdrawal of all foreign forces from July this year and that this is to be completed within six months,” Zarghoun said on a mobile phone with a Pakistan number.
“The current government and parliament are to function until a provisional administration is formed after six months and presidential and parliamentary polls are held in March 2011,” he said, adding that details of the plan were negotiable.
Karzai has launched a high profile effort to reach out to insurgents this year, and included a former Hezb-i-Islami member as the economy minister in his new Cabinet in January.
Zarghoun said the delegation might also meet US officials to discuss the plan, however US embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the US had no plans to meet them.
“The US does support the Afghan government’s interest in reaching out to members of insurgent groups that cease support to the insurgency, live in accordance with the Afghan Constitution, renounce violence and have no ties to al-Qaeda or terrorist groups that share its objectives,” she said.
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