Amrullah Saleh, a former intelligence chief who resigned over the summer in opposition to Mr. Karzai’s negotiation gambit, is forming a mostly ethnic Tajik and Uzbek, youth-based movement he hopes will act as a counterweight to the “Talibanization” of Afghanistan, his close associates said. Mr. Saleh was out of the country and unavailable for comment.
According to this game plan, NATO will inflict military defeats on the Taliban in the field, pushing them in the direction of government incentives to lay down their weapons and join the political process. Pakistan’s role is to deny the movement sanctuary.
“The Taliban is a very frustrating entity to speak with, because they have no structure,” said a NATO official speaking on the condition of anonymity. “To compound this, many Talibs are afraid of breaking cover because they might end up on a targeting list.”
The Taliban repeatedly has refused to negotiate before a timetable is agreed upon for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country, while the Afghan government has demanded that the Taliban surrender its weapons and accept the constitution as a precondition to talks.
Afghan and Pakistani local media identified some of the former Pakistani and Taliban officials in attendance as Esfandiar Wali Khan, Afrasiab Khattak and Aftab Sherpao, who are prominent leaders of the majority-Pashtun northwestern province of Pakistan. Also present were Ali Ahmad Jalali, a former Afghan interior minister heading the government negotiating team, and Asif Durrani, a former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which maintains close links with the Taliban.
On the Taliban side were Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban envoy who was incarcerated at the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for four years after the fall of the Taliban.
“They’re not the real thing, but they have the ability to convey the message,” Davood Moradian, chief of strategic studies at the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said of the Taliban interlocutors. “The Taliban need to be convinced that they will not prevail and they will not win.”
Signaling a softening toward the Taliban, Mr. Karzai ordered a review of cases of militants who were detained for “links with the armed opposition” and referred to members of the insurgency as “our Taliban brothers.”
In his CNN interview, Mr. Karzai said that while there have been “no official contacts with a known entity that reports to a body of Taliban and that comes back and reports to us regularly … we hope we can begin that as soon as possible.”
The Afghan president is said to doubt privately that the 48-member NATO military presence in Afghanistan is capable of defeating the Taliban ahead of the 2011 deadline for downscaling the Western presence.
“The Taliban are obsessed with the revival of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan,” said Syed Saleem Shahzad, author of “Al-Qaeda: Ideology, Strategy and Tactics.” “Accepting its revival negates the U.N. sanctions in the late ‘90s and the dislodging of the Taliban in 2001, amounting to a complete Western defeat in Afghanistan.”