- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

KABUL (AP) - The Afghan government has held “good discussions” with Taliban militants as it seeks a way to end an increasingly the bloody insurgency against Afghan, U.S. and NATO forces, the president’s spokesman said Tuesday.

The spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said there have been “some developments” in the talks, giving the government hope they could lead toward peace. However, he cautioned there would not be a quick agreement.

“We have had some talks,” Humayun Hamidzada told a news conference. “We shouldn’t expect a quick outcome, but there has been some developments. There are some contacts at different levels.”

Karzai’s spokesman offered no specifics on progress made in the negotiations.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Qari Yousef Ahamdi, denied the Taliban held negotiations with Afghan officials.

“It is just propaganda,” he said. “No level of commanders have had negotiations. The Taliban have said several times that we won’t do any negotiations while American and NATO forces are present in Afghanistan.”

Hamidzada said the government was discussing with international allies the possibility of safety guarantees for militants to participate in talks without fear of arrest or attack. Hamidzada mentioned no names, but Karzai has previously offered Taliban leader Mullah Omar safe passage for face-to-face negotiations.

Hamidzada said the government is negotiating with the international community to remove some names from a U.N. sanctions list, as long as those people accept the Afghan Constitution and participate in the peace process. He said some countries and institutions had agreed to remove some names, but others had not.

President Barack Obama’s administration says that Omar and other Taliban fighters aligned with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network “are not reconcilable and we cannot make a deal that includes them.” But the White House also says that the war cannot be won “without convincing non-ideologically committed insurgents to lay down their arms.”

Reports have circulated in the last month in Afghanistan that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another powerful Afghan warlord, has tried to initiate contact with the United States for peace talks.

The Taliban and other militants have made a violent comeback the last three years. Obama has ordered 21,000 new U.S. troops to Afghanistan this summer to try to reverse the militants’ gains. The U.S. has some 38,000 troops in the country today, approximately half of the 70,000 international forces in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Taliban militants kidnapped the father of Afghanistan’s education minister in a central province, while a Predator drone crashed in the country’s east, officials said Tuesday.

Two militants on motorbikes seized the father of Education Minister Farouq Wardak in Wardak province’s Sayed Abad district on Monday, said provincial Governor Halim Fedai.

The minister’s family is in contact with the kidnappers, said Sher Wali Wardak, another son of the kidnapped 80-year-old Khoja Mir.

Kidnappings of wealthy Afghans have spiked over the last year, often carried out by criminals and militants seeking money or political leverage.

In eastern Afghanistan, meanwhile, a U.S. Air Force Predator drone crashed Tuesday, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

“The crash was not due to hostile fire,” the statement said. It did not give a reason for the crash.

In southern Uruzgan province, police clashed with militants in Khas Uruzgan district, killing seven suspected insurgents Tuesday, said Juma Gul Himat, the provincial police chief. Two policemen were wounded in the clash.


Associated Press reporter Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

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