Oops, Taliban Arrests Derail Secret U.N. Talks

The arrest of senior Afghan Taliban figures in Pakistan ended secret talks between the Taliban and the United Nations, according the former head of the U.N. mission in Kabul. U.N. representative Kai Eide, who stepped down this month, says the capture of more than a dozen Taliban members, some through joint U.S. Pakistan operations, effectively derailed the possibility of continuing dialogue about settling the war in Afghanistan. But Pakistan says there was no intention to sabotage anything.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

White House special representative Richard Holbrooke said yesterday the United States was extremely gratified that Pakistan had arrested key Taliban leaders in recent weeks. But earlier in the day, the former U.N. representative to Afghanistan said that the capture of senior Taliban figures in Pakistan had abruptly severed important contacts with the insurgents and disrupted an effort to end the Afghan war.

From Islamabad, NPR's Julie McCarthy has more.

JULIE MCCARTHY: The two statements, one from Ambassador Holbrooke and the other from Kai Eide, who stepped down this month as the U.N. representative in Kabul, bring into focus a rising debate, whether to fight or to talk to the Taliban after eight years of war. Holbrooke said the arrest of key Taliban leaders in Pakistan had put more pressure on the militants and was good for the military operation in Afghanistan.

But Kai Eide told the BBC the arrests had slammed the door on secret talks with senior Taliban leaders and scuttled nascent peace efforts.

Mr. KAI EIDE (U.N. Former Special Representative, Afghanistan): That to me is a sign also that the Pakistanis did not play the role that they should've played. I dont believe that these people were arrested by coincidence.

MCCARTHY: Eide confirmed for the first time that talks with senior Taliban began a year ago with face-to-face meetings. He said there was every reason to believe that negotiations had the approval of the group's spiritual leader, Mullah Omar. There has been speculation that the arrests were Pakistan's way of signaling that no peace talks about Afghanistan would happen without the Pakistanis at the table. But Pakistan's foreign office said the only motivation for the arrests was to remove Taliban commanders from the battlefield.

Spokesman Abdul Basit denied that Pakistan intended to sabotage any political dialogue to end the Afghan war.

Mr. ABDUL BASIT (Spokesman, Pakistan Foreign Office): This is misrepresentation of our intentions, I would say. The entire international community, including the U.S., are appreciative of what we are doing.

MCCARTHY: But newspaper editor Rashid Rahman says Pakistan's explanation is not wholly credible. He says every party is positioning itself for the time when the U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

Mr. RASHID RAHMAN (Editor, Daily Times): And certainly the Pakistanis military and its intelligence arms would want a foot in the door in order to have influence in the regime which may follow in Afghanistan, whether under Karzai or someone else.

MCCARTHY: Talks with the Taliban are highly sensitive for the Americans. U.S. officials with knowledge of U.N. envoy Eide's efforts describe them as preliminary at best.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.

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