Clinton: Afghans won't give up on Taliban deal

AP News
Posted: Oct 11, 2011 9:05 PM
Clinton: Afghans won't give up on Taliban deal

Afghanistan's government will continue to try to draw the Taliban insurgency to peace talks, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday, despite the weekend statement from a frustrated Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the effort is futile.

"President Karzai understands that there has to be outreach to see whether or not there is an opportunity for resolution with some parts of the Taliban, or with all of the Taliban," Clinton said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The U.S. sees a political settlement between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul as the key to ending the war. Karzai has run hot and cold on the timing and composition of a peace initiative with insurgents trying to undermine his government and evict his American protectors. He was also angered by a secret, parallel U.S. effort to engage the Taliban leadership earlier this year.

The Taliban has shown no public willingness to talk peace with the Karzai government.

Over the weekend Karzai said he is through trying to engage the insurgents directly. He said future efforts should be initiated by Pakistan since the Taliban high command lives there.

"I cannot find Mullah Mohammad Omar," Karzai said, referring to the Taliban's one-eyed leader. "Where is he? I cannot find the Taliban council. Where is it? I don't have any other answer except to say that the other side for this negotiation is Pakistan."

Clinton said frustration and high emotion are understandable after the "vicious, duplicitous" assassination last month of the Afghan elder statesman leading peace outreach efforts for Karzai.

Burhanuddin Rabbani was killed when he greeted a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban emissary bearing a message about the reconciliation effort.

Karzai pointed to the killing as evidence that peace efforts are pointless.

But Clinton said her emissary trying to foster peace talks, Marc Grossman, thinks the effort will go on. Grossman is on an extended diplomatic trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and surrounding countries.

"Karzai and all the elements within his government understand that as difficult as it is to pursue a peace process and potential agreement with the Taliban, it has to be done," Clinton said.

Clinton repeated the Obama administration goal that the peace effort must be "Afghan led and owned," although the separate U.S. outreach stands as an obvious contradiction.

"And if the Afghans tomorrow say, `we don't want anything to do with this, we don't ever think it can happen,' we can't act in their stead," Clinton said.

Clinton gave no timeline for Taliban peace talks. The U.S. plans to bring most forces home by 2015.

Separately, she said the U.S. remains hopeful that it can soon resolve the last differences with Afghanistan over a security agreement governing the two nations' relationship after forces withdraw. She said a couple of sticking points remain, but the U.S. hopes to have the agreement ready before an international conference on Afghanistan's future in December.