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Sunday, 02.19.2012, 05:25pm (GMT)
By ROB TAYLOR & HAMID SHALIZI | REUTERS
KABUL: Afghan government efforts to bring the Taleban into peace talks are stumbling and bold steps were needed to ensure that a council spearheading the reconciliation process can win the trust of insurgents, said a presidential adviser on Sunday.
Assadullah Wafa also expressed concern that Afghans, who have been subjected to one conflict after another, were losing hope that peace was possible from a process that so far has been shrouded in secrecy and conflicting views of likely success.
The government has made some contacts with the Taleban, who have made a strong comeback after being toppled by a US invasion in 2001, but there are no signs that full-fledged peace talks will happen anytime soon.
US diplomats have also been seeking to broaden exploratory talks that began clandestinely in Germany in late 2010 after the Taleban offered to open a representative office in the Gulf emirate of Qatar, prompting demands for inclusion from Kabul.
"The talk about peace talks is just futile," said Wafa, an adviser to President Hamid Karzai and a former governor in some of Afghanistan's most volatile provinces.
Karzai set up a 70-member High Peace Council two years ago, with Wafa as a member, to try and negotiate an end to the war, now dragging into its eleventh year.
It is meant to represent all ethnic and political alliances in a bid to reach out to the Taleban leadership, as well as convince grassroots insurgent fighters to join the government.
Wafa, however, questioned its effectiveness, and said its wide makeup actually made it difficult for the government to reach out to militant groups.
"I have told President Karzai and he promised that there would be repair of the peace council. I am not afraid to speak out, but it doesn't much bear fruit. There must be a review," he said in an interview.
"I think genuine people aren't part of the peace council, or there are individuals who the Taleban fought in the past or some communist baqaya (remains) in the council, because of whom the Taleban aren't interested in talks." Wafa, one of the Afghan government's most experienced bureaucrats, said a reorganization of the council could help kick-start talks in Qatar, where the Taleban has set up an office to build contacts with the United States, or elsewhere.
The stakes are high. Failure to lure the Taleban to the negotiating table could mean perpetual instability, or even another civil war, once NATO combat troops withdraw in 2014.
Wafa's skepticism extends far beyond the High Peace Council.
He accused regional power Pakistan - seen as critical to efforts to end the war - of playing a double game, promising to work for peace while using the Taleban and other groups as proxies to advance its interests in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is known to want access to Taleban leaders, including Mullah Omar, belonging so the so-called Quetta Shura, named after the Pakistani city where it is said to be based.
They would be the decision makers in any substantive peace negotiations.
"They (Pakistan) say one thing and do another. There is no doubt that Taleban leadership and Mullah Omar are in Quetta. They recruit, fund and people to create instability on this side," Wafa said.
"We have been deprived of peace in the country for the last 30 years and it is because of our neighbors." Pakistan has consistently denied giving sanctuary to insurgents and denies the existence of any Quetta Shura, or leadership council.
Karzai told the Wall Street Journal last week there had been three-way "contacts" between US officials and the Taleban, as well as his government, which the insurgents have previously refused to deal with, calling it a US "puppet." Wafa said while there had been infrequent and indirect Taleban contacts at a low level, he was "not aware where Karzai has made any contact," and large international bounties on Taleban leaders made reconciliation seem impossible.
"How can they become confident and ready for talks? I think the world does not want peace in the country. They just throw dust in the eyes," he said.
Wafa said part of his job was to hear complaint petitions from across the country and be a conduit to Karzai, and the message from the Afghan people was that they had begun to lose faith in the reconciliation drive.