- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2011

A large number of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters “have lost all hope” and are seeking peace deals with the Afghan government since U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden last month, a senior Afghan official told The Washington Times this week.

He also confirmed reports that the United States has stepped up contacts with the Taliban, which sheltered the al Qaeda leader until U.S. forces toppled the brutal Afghan regime after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Ghulam Farooq Wardak, Afghanistan’s education minister and a member of a peace council in charge of reconciliation efforts with the Taliban, described an “increase in the number of approaches” to the panel from militants since bin Laden’s death on May 2.

“They have lost all hope,” he said.

Mr. Wardak said Taliban and al Qaeda fighters have contacted Burhanuddin Rabbani, the council chairman and a former president of Afghanistan, but he declined to disclose more details of those meetings.

“Since these approaches are in the premature stage, we would like these contacts to be confined to him,” he said, referring to Mr. Rabbani.

Mr. Wardak was unable to say whether any senior commanders were involved in reconciliation efforts.

The Afghan government has set three conditions for reconciliation: The militants must lay down their arms, renounce al Qaeda and respect the Afghan Constitution.

Even as officials have stepped up diplomatic efforts to jump-start talks with the Taliban, the group has launched a deadly spring offensive to regain control of the country.

Taliban fighters and their al Qaeda allies fought a second day of fierce battles with Pakistani troops Thursday in one of the deadliest clashes in months.

Pakistani authorities said 63 people died when militants “attacked villages and burned schools” in a border area with Afghanistan.

In his interview with The Times, Mr. Wardak also accused Pakistan of providing safe havens for terrorists, citing the discovery of bin Laden in the city of Abbottabad, home to Pakistan’s main military academy.

“It’s as clear as sunshine,” he said in an interview in Washington.

“If Osama bin Laden was there, there could be second and third and fourth layers of terrorists there as well. He could not be standing alone,” he said.

He also confirmed recent contacts between U.S. officials and the Taliban.

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