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Some Background on the Karzai-Taliban Talks

How can you tell when the Karzai-Taliban peace talks are gaining momentum? When Carlotta Gall of The New York Times writes a curtain-raiser on them.

Much of Gall’s story will be familiar to those who’ve been following this. But she presents a level of detail that no one’s previously reported. For instance, the talks didn’t come out of nowhere: According to Gall, Karzai has been putting out feelers to the Taliban for two years. And she’s got a wealth of new information about the initial Saudi-brokered meetings between Taliban officials and Karzai emissaries:

Among those who attended were Mr. Karzai’s brother, Qayum Karzai, and the head of the Council of Clerics of Afghanistan, Maulvi Fazl Hadi Shinwari. Also present were two former Taliban officials who have remained under government protection in Kabul since their release from United States custody: Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, a former Taliban foreign minister, and Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaeef, who served as the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan.

Active representatives of the Taliban were also said to be present, although two Taliban spokesmen, Zabiullah Mujahed and Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, contacted by telephone denied it and said that the Taliban was not ready to negotiate.

Yet the two spokesmen indicated in previous interviews that the movement had broken from Al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, a stance that was seen as opening the way for negotiations.

“Al Qaeda has an international agenda, and Taliban have their own agenda, which is Afghanistan,” said Mr. Muttawakil, who was seen as a moderate member of the Taliban government and now supports peace talks.

If old Taliban eminences think that the Taliban is ready to act on a divergence of goals with Al Qaeda, we shouldn’t waste any time in testing that out.

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