- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

QUETTA, Pakistan Hamid Karzai, in his first official act as Afghanistan's designated leader, received a delegation of top Taliban officials on a battleground north of Kandahar and began negotiating terms for the surrender of the city.
"He said they made lots of progress. It went very well," Mr. Karzai told his younger brother, Ahmad Karzai, by satellite telephone as visitors sat on the plush, carpeted floor of the Karzai family home in Quetta.
The younger Mr. Karzai said the Taliban delegation consisted of "five or six" turbaned mullahs, who are among the closest followers of supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
"These are the people. If they make a decision, it will be acceptable to Mullah Omar," Ahmad Karzai said.
In the 24 hours that followed Hamid Karzai's selection as de facto prime minister of a six-month interim government in Afghanistan, the new leader was busily trying by force and diplomacy to drive the Taliban from its last stronghold in the country he is charged with rebuilding.
Leading an army of 4,000 to 5,000 troops, he battled the Taliban for control of a bridge just 10 miles from the gates of Kandahar the birthplace of the militant Taliban movement.
He survived the nearby explosion of an errant U.S. bomb in an engagement yesterday, an incident that left three U.S. soldiers dead. Mr. Karzai was hit with flying dirt and gravel from that explosion, but he did not sustain any injuries.
In a political effort, Mr. Karzai met with Taliban mullahs on the other side of the disputed bridge. They met in the afternoon and returned to the city before sunset; this is when Muslims break their daylong fast during the current holy month of Ramadan. Those talks are expected to continue today.
Similar negotiations led to a peaceful transfer of power in cities throughout the Pashtun tribal areas around Jalalabad.
Mr. Karzai said he hoped to travel to Kabul soon, where, in two weeks, he will convene his Cabinet and meet the 29 ministers chosen to reflect the nation's complex ethnic makeup. That gives Mr. Karzai a window to negotiate a peaceful takeover of Kandahar. A successful negotiation would close an early chapter in the war on terrorism that began with the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Mr. Karzai, an exile from Taliban rule who returned in October to help overthrow the regime, escaped a Taliban ambush with help from U.S. air support and went on to raise an army of 2,000 troops.
He began a 60-mile march south from Uruzgan province to the edge of Kandahar last week. By the time he first met face to face with Taliban leaders yesterday, his army had swelled with defecting Taliban fighters to more than twice its original size.
Mr. Karzai said yesterday that his goal was to restore "peace and stability" in a nation torn by more than two decades of war. With only a single satellite telephone at hand, he offered few details of what to expect next. But his brother, Ahmad, spent the day in Quetta, receiving guests and speaking on the leader's behalf.
"Surrender, that is what we want from the Taliban now," Ahmad Karzai said. "They know they are not going to survive," but a 'key issue' is whether they are willing to lay down their arms.
An amnesty for Taliban fighters will most likely be negotiated. But the Bush administration has made it clear that there should be no amnesty for Taliban leaders.
However, Ahmad Karzai said "they have no choice. Our hope is that this can end without violence."
On an issue of more pressing concern to the West, he said his brother "definitely" wants all of bin Laden's Arab fighters out of the country and he would also seek help from the international community to cleanse Afghanistan of foreign-born guerrillas.
"The Arabs are not only an Afghan problem, they are an international problem. The allies have to be involved," Ahmad Karzai said.
Hamid Karzai served as a deputy minister in the Afghan government that was formed in the early 1990s after the withdrawal of Soviet forces.
While in exile in 1999, he was selected as chief of the influential Popalzai clan following the assassination of his father, the former chief. The Popalzais are part of the Durrani tribe that established a Pashtun empire in the 18th century; the clan was also part of a monarchy that ruled until a 1973 coup sent the last king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, into exile.
Mr. Karzai, 44, was educated abroad and speaks fluent English. When the Taliban first emerged in 1994, he supported the harsh Islamic movement as an alternative to the lawless state then ruled by competing warlords.
By 1995, he became disillusioned with the Taliban and rejected its offer to make him its permanent United Nations representative.
He spent much of the late 1990s in Pakistan's Baluchistan province, where he sparred regularly with Pakistan's government, which was a staunch supporter of the Taliban until the September 11 attacks.
Removing the Taliban from Kandahar and three nearby provinces without bloodshed would likely boost Hamid Karzai's stature as leader of a government dominated by the Northern Alliance.

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