Taliban denies reports that leaders met with U.N. envoy

An injured Afghan soldier gets help during a fierce gun battle with Taliban fighters in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah on Friday.
An injured Afghan soldier gets help during a fierce gun battle with Taliban fighters in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah on Friday. (Abdul Khaliq/associated Press)
By Joshua Partlow
Sunday, January 31, 2010

KABUL -- The Taliban on Saturday denied meeting with the United Nations' special representative in Afghanistan and vowed to persist in its war "against the invaders."

The denial came in response to news reports that Kai Eide, the outgoing U.N. envoy, held a meeting in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, this month with members of the Taliban leadership. The United Nations has not confirmed that such a meeting took place, although Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Paris on Friday that Eide wanted to draw "his own conclusion about the mind-set of some of the Taliban members."

In an e-mailed statement, the Taliban leadership council described such a meeting as "mere futile and baseless rumors."

"The Leadership Council once again emphasizes continuation of Islamic Jihad against all invaders as a means to frustrate these conspiracies," the statement said.

Little is known about the reported talks, including whom Eide, a Norwegian diplomat, met with from the Taliban and what was discussed. Eide visited Dubai this month.

Western officials in Kabul said that the majority of the Taliban leadership, thought to be based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, remain staunchly opposed to negotiations with coalition forces. One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described Eide's meeting as "a first step" toward setting up future talks.

"It's certainly not an initiative where Mullah Omar has reached out and said, 'Let's have dinner.' This is trying to peel someone out from the inner circle who may want to discuss," the official said, referring to Taliban leader Mohammad Omar. "We're nowhere near the stage where someone in Quetta is going to say, 'Yes, let's talk.' "

Arsallah Rahmani, a former minister in the Taliban government, said Eide did meet with Taliban officials, but he described the dialogue as in its infancy. "It's a very sensitive issue right now," he said.

One former Taliban official said that Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, took part in the talks. Zaeef could not be reached for comment.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made overtures to the Taliban and this week proposed convening a traditional tribal gathering to jump-start peace talks. The Taliban has not said whether it would take part in such a meeting and has often reiterated its basic demands: that coalition forces leave Afghanistan and free Taliban prisoners.

The U.N. Security Council this week lifted sanctions on five former Taliban officials, including Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, a former foreign minister under the Taliban government.

"As a human being, this is my legal right, and I welcome that. I'd been expecting something like this, but at the same time I was not very optimistic it would happen," Muttawakil said in a telephone interview. "As part of the peace process, it was a good step to remove the Taliban's names from the blacklist."

Special correspondent Javed Hamdard contributed to this report.

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