In Afghanistan, Karzai holds talks with key insurgent groups

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 22, 2010; 3:11 PM

KABUL -- President Hamid Karzai held talks here Monday with representatives of one of the key insurgent groups battling his government, as the president continues his high-stakes push for an eventual reconciliation among all of Afghanistan's warring factions.

The talks were with a small delegation from the Hezb-i-Islami faction, loyal to former mujaheddin commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom the United States has designated a terrorist and whom many Afghans regard as a "warlord" responsible for large-scale human rights violations.

Hezb-i-Islami is the second-largest insurgent group, behind the Taliban, challenging Karzai's government, and since 2001 those two groups have formed an uneasy alliance that seemed to fray with clashes earlier this month in Baghlan province that left 60 people dead.

One official familiar with the talks said the Hekmatyar representatives reiterated their long-held position that all foreign forces must leave Afghanistan before they would agree to more formal talks. Still, the very fact of the talks seemed another indication that Karzai is pressing ahead with his reconciliation plans even though the United States -- which is ramping up its military operations in the country -- and many Afghans remain wary.

As part of that push, Karzai is planning a peace "jirga," or meeting, involving community leaders and tribal elders for late April or May, and he is expected to invite all the insurgents groups, including the Taliban, to attend.

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