- Associated Press - Sunday, August 12, 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan government representatives have met with a top-ranking Taliban member in his prison cell in Pakistan, an official said Sunday, suggesting a small step toward reopening stalled peace talks with the insurgent group.

The confirmation came at the end of a bloody weekend that showed how unstable the country is, though NATO is aiming to hand over security responsibility to local forces at the end of 2014 after more than a decade of warfare against insurgents.

Afghanistan’s international allies hope that bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table will ease the pressure on the Afghan government as international forces draw down.

An official with the Afghan High Peace Council, which is tasked with starting talks, said the Pakistani government allowed Afghan government envoys access to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a top-ranking Taliban official who was captured in Pakistan in 2010.

His arrest reportedly angered Afghan President Hamid Karzai because Mullah Baradar had been in secret talks with the Afghan government.

“Some members from our embassy in Pakistan, they met Mullah Baradar,” said Ismail Qasemyar, the council’s international relations adviser. He declined to give details of the discussions or say when they took place. Officials in Pakistan did not respond to calls seeking comment. Mr. Qasemyar said that members of the peace council had not met with Mullah  Baradar.

A spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry said they continue to push for Pakistan to release Mullah Baradar and other Taliban prisoners to speed the effort for peace talks.

“The Afghan government has requested several times from Pakistan not only the release of Mullah Baradar, but of all those Taliban leaders who are in Pakistani prisons. Unfortunately so far we haven’t seen any positive actions from the Pakistan side, but we are hopeful that they will take practical measures regarding this issue, as they say they will in their official statements,” Janan Mosazai told reporters at a news conference earlier in the day.

Pakistani officials have said such demands are unrealistic.

The political machinations come as the Taliban continue to launch regular attacks on Afghan forces, their international allies and Afghan civilians.

In the latest incident Sunday, a roadside bomb killed a district government chief and three of his bodyguards in eastern Afghanistan, officials said. The Afghan government’s top official in Laghman province’s Alishang district was driving to a meeting with the bodyguards when his car was blown up on the road, provincial spokesman Sarhadi Zewak said.

Mr. Zewak said the provincial government believes district chief Faridullah Niazi was targeted by insurgents.

Such assassinations of people allied with the government or international forces have surged this year. The United Nations reported last week that civilian deaths from such killings jumped 34 percent in the first six months of 2012 to 255 people killed, compared with 190 in the first half of 2011. The victims ranged from police to village elders who worked on programs with international forces.

“Targeted killings, abduction and intimidations have created a climate of fear among officials and deter them from taking up positions and working in these areas,” the U.N. report said.

No group claimed responsibility for the Sunday bombing, but it fit the pattern of Taliban assassinations of government workers. The Taliban have said that they do not consider people working with the government or supporting its programs to be civilians, saying that they are collaborators who have chosen to side with the enemy.

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