UN Calls on Taliban to Join Peace Process

(AFP) - The UN envoy to Afghanistan called on the Taliban Wednesday to join peace efforts as the bulk of NATO combat troops prepare to leave the country by the end of next year.

"My message to the insurgency is basically a sort of long-term message: you are Afghans, you care, I assume, about your country, you care about peaceful stable future of the country," Jan Kubis told a news conference.

The withdrawal and next year's presidential election, when President Hamid Karzai will step down after 13 years in power, have lent urgency to the search for a negotiated settlement to end Afghanistan's decades of conflict.

The Taliban, ousted from power by a 2001 US-led invasion for refusing to give up Al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks, are leading a deadly insurgency against Western troops and the Afghan government.

When NATO troops leave, Afghan police and soldiers will take responsibility for security. There are fears that without some kind of settlement, the country could return to the horrors of its 1992-96 civil war.

Pointing out that a "strong motivation" for insurgents was the fight against foreign troops, Kubis said: "There will be no international fighting force at the end of 2014.

"Take this into account. Adjust and take necessary measures to contribute to the surge of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan after 2014."

Efforts by the international community and the Afghan government to bring the Taliban to meaningful negotiations have largely been thwarted. The Taliban publicly refuse to hold direct talks with Kabul, considering it a US puppet.

The militia broke off tentative contacts with the United States in Qatar in March 2012 after the failure of attempts to negotiate a prisoner exchange as a confidence-building measure.

Karzai said he plans to visit Qatar, with US backing, to discuss the proposed opening of a Taliban office in the emirate as a prelude to possible peace talks.

The UN envoy welcomed Karzai's visit.

"We took good note of the plan of Mr President to visit Qatar these days and again we hope that some messages are coming after this visit," Kubis said.

Until earlier this year, Karzai rejected the idea of a Taliban office in Qatar because of fears that his government would be frozen out of any deal between the United States and the militants.

The president has often called the Taliban "brothers" in a gesture to promote reconciliation, but he also accuses them of holding secret talks with the US at the same time as they launch suicide attacks that kill civilians.

Pakistan, which backed Afghanistan's 1996-2001 Taliban regime, has pledged its support for an office in Doha to promote peace and for any Afghan-led initiative to stabilise the neighbouring country.


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