New Delhi, Oct. 28: Afghanistanâ€™s President Hamid Karzai is now on board what is being seen here as the Musharraf-Bush game plan to bring the Taliban into the government in Afghanistan. Mr Karzai has invited Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar to negotiate peace, saying in Kabul, according to the news agencies, â€œFor the sake of peace in Afghanistan, we are ready to negotiate with them. We have always negotiated with their supporters and people who control them, and will do so again.â€
This major departure from stated policy appears to be a direct result of Pakistan President Pervez Musharrafâ€™s strong pitch in the US recently for a deal with the Taliban to stop the violence and join the government in Afghanistan. Mr Karzai, who had participated in a dinner hosted by US President George W. Bush for him and the Pakistani general, has taken the first step forward with informed sources here pointing out that the instructions to do so were clearly coming from Washington. â€œMr Karzai does not act without clearance from Washington on such matters,â€ the sources said.
President Musharraf has reportedly assured the Americans that he will use his influence over the Taliban to encourage negotiations, and sources here pointed out that the next step will now be important in taking this process forward.
Mr Karzai who, along with the Bush administration, had spearheaded a strong campaign against the Taliban, was understandably reluctant to change course at President Musharrafâ€™s behest, but clearly he has been left with little choice in the matter. He did give vent to some of this anger even while extending an olive branch to the Taliban hardline leader, saying in a pointed reference to Pakistan, â€œThe international community needs to go to (the) roots of terrorism, not its results. It needs to focus on and bring more pressure over the resources of terrorism, training centres, places of finance and where they are given the ideology to come to Afghanistan and fight.â€
An offer had been made by the Afghan government in 2001 to the Taliban for talks, but at that time leaders â€œwhose hands were stained with bloodâ€ had been excluded. A difference was made between the â€œmoderateâ€ and the â€œterroristâ€ Taliban, but this effort came to nought.
Mullah Omar, one of the most wanted men on the US list, has now been invited by President Karzai to negotiate peace and, as the sources here said, if this was going to move forward some kind of amnesty for him and the other leaders would have to be first negotiated and kept.
Mr Karzai, however, told journalists in Kabul that he was not offering amnesty, but this was seen by the sources here as â€œposturingâ€. It is still early days and it will have to be seen if Mullah Omar has sufficient trust in President Musharraf to come out of hiding, return to Afghanistan and join the peace talks at some stage or the other.
Mr Karzai placed a weak condition to the talks when he said, â€œThose people, if it is Mullah Mohammed Omar or others, if they want to talk and negotiate with us, they are welcome, but they should first free themselves from foreign slavery and come to their own land and live in peace.â€
After 9/11, Pakistan had sent interlocutors to speak to the Taliban and urge them to negotiate peace before the US invasion. At that time they had not been successful with the Taliban eventually â€œmeltingâ€ away in the face of the US offensive. They have since regrouped and today are posing a major threat to the Karzai government in Kabul, which is now protected by Nato forces.
Mullah Omar has been issuing statements since he went into hiding, attacking President Karzai and the Americans and making it clear â€œto the aggressors and their puppet government that as long as one occupation soldier is on Afghan holy soil, Taliban leadership will not be willing to hold talks with themâ€. New Delhi has not responded to the developments in Afghanistan, seeking refuge in its â€œwait and watchâ€ policy.
The website maintained by the Afghanistan womenâ€™s organisation RAWA presents a tale of acute suffering at the hands now of Nato troops and the Taliban. The reports from Afghanistan now speak of attacks on innocent people by both Nato soldiers and the Taliban, which have started targeting women and others who do not follow their fundamentalist dictates. The reports detail large-scale deaths because of Nato bombings as well as hangings and executions of innocent persons by the Taliban.