(CNSNews.com) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai has confirmed that unofficial talks with the Taliban have been underway “for quite some time” and voiced the hope they would become more formal now that his new “peace council” is up and running.
“We have been talking to the Taliban as countryman to countryman,” Karzai said in an interview with CNN’s Larry King due to be broadcast on Monday, describing the talks as “unofficial personal contacts.”
On Sunday, Karzai’s newly inaugurated “High Council for Peace” chose as its chairman Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president of Afghanistan whose tenure followed the end of the Soviet occupation and ended with the Taliban takeover of most of the country in 1996.
The 68-member council Rabbani will head has been tasked to oversee attempts at reconciliation with those Taliban elements willing to stop the war that has dragged on since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban regime after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Obama administration says it supports the process, on condition the Taliban members abandon violence, end support for al-Qaeda and commit to abiding by the Afghan constitution.
The Washington Post reported last week that secret talks were being held between the Karzai government and Taliban figures who were believed to have been authorized to speak for Mullah Mohammed Omar’s Taliban leadership.
Asked by Larry King about this, Karzai denied that any official contacts had been held “with a known entity that reports to a body of Taliban.” But he said he hoped this would happen soon now that the peace council has been established.
Karzai spoke of reaching out to those in the Taliban whom he compared to “kids who have run away from the family.”
“The family should try to bring them back and give them better discipline and incorporate them back into their family and the society.”
On the other hand, he told CNN, “those who are a part of al-Qaeda and the other terrorist networks who are ideologically against us or who are working against Afghanistan knowingly and out of the purpose of hatred and enmity – those of course we have to work against.”
Rabbani, the head of the peace council, is a member of Afghanistan’s Tajik minority.
An Islamic scholar, in 1969 he set up the Afghanistan Muslim Brotherhood, a group affiliated to the fundamentalist Egyptian organization of the same name. Its co-founder was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a Pashtun warlord with whom Rabbani later split and whose Hezb-i-Islami has emerged in recent years as a significant player in the anti-coalition insurgency.
Rabbani chaired the national peace “jirga” over the summer which endorsed the reconciliation drive.
At the end of the event in Kabul, he called for an end to the blacklist of Taliban members maintained by the U.N. Security Council.
The Security Council in July removed three former Taliban officials from the list at Karzai’s request. Their removal left 135 people associated with the Taliban still listed, including Omar and Hekmatyar.
Individuals and entities on the list, which originates from a 1999 Security Council resolution, are subjected to travel bans and a freezing of assets.