Karzai Holds Talks With Rebel Group

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High-level meetings are going on between Afghanistan's government and a senior delegation of insurgents. It marks the first time that President Hamid Karzai has met with such high-level representatives.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In Afghanistan, a key militant group has taken what could be the first real step towards a negotiated settlement of the Afghan war. The group, which is separate from the Taliban, sent a top-level delegation to meet with President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan leaders in Kabul. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has more.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: A senior aide to Hamid Karzai says the Afghan president met, yesterday, behind closed doors, with a five-member delegation sent by Hizb-i-Islami. The militant group is headed by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and has longtime ties to al-Qaida.

It is active in northern and eastern Afghanistan and is a major problem for Afghan and Western troops here. The Karzai aide says the delegation, which includes a senior deputy to Hekmatyar, is in Kabul to present its, quote, "concept for peace."

The visit this week is a major coup for Karzai. Over the past year, the Afghan president has been rebuffed by the Taliban and other insurgent groups, when he suggested they meet and discuss ways to end the war here. Militant leaders have repeatedly said they won't negotiate until all international troops leave Afghanistan.

They've also rejected Afghan and Western demands that they accept the Afghan government and lay down their arms. The Karzai aide declined to outline Hizb-i-Islami's new proposal for peace, or what the Afghan government's response is to it. The aide says the delegation will meet with other leaders in Kabul today.

There was no immediate Western reaction to the talks. For years, Hizb-i-Islami militants fought alongside the Taliban against Western and Afghan forces here. But the two militant groups have been clashing in recent weeks over the control of villages in the north. Hizb-i-Islami's political wing, which claims to have long ago severed ties with the militants and Hekmatyar, has also become more active in the Afghan government.

Many of its members have been appointed to provincial posts in the north. More recently, the Afghan president named the Hizb-i-Islami party leader to be his economy minister. A spokesman for the Hizb-i-Islami militant group, says the five-member delegation also plans to talk to Taliban officials somewhere in Afghanistan.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.

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