LIANE HANSEN, host:
In Afghanistan, there's been a flurry of activity around the possibility of peace talks with the Taliban. Most American and Afghan observers agree that may be the only way out of the decade-old war. The government of Afghanistan and U.S. military leaders have announced their support for reconciliation.
But as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports, real negotiations still seem a long way off.
QUIL LAWRENCE: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has regularly appealed for peace among Afghans and talks with the men he calls his Taliban brothers. Karzai appointed a High Council for Peace last year. But the same week that the head of the council told journalists that contacts with the insurgents had been made, a prominent member of the council downplayed the prospect.
Abdul Hakim Mujahid's opinion carries weight because he was formerly the Taliban government envoy to the U.N.
Mr. ABDUL HAKIM MUJAHID (Former Taliban Ambassador, United Nations): Talking with the opposition, armed opposition, it is not a difficult issue. Talking with the armed opposition with a productive policies and productive plans and programs, so far we do not have any thing in our hand.
LAWRENCE: Mujahid complains that the High Peace Council has nothing to offer the Taliban, not even a guarantee of safe passage to meet with Afghan government officials. And he says his Taliban contacts have only one point they'd like to discuss - foreigners leaving.
Mr. MUJAHID: So far the Taliban is talking. They are only talking about the presence of foreign forces, the foreign forces to leave Afghanistan. The agenda of the Taliban is the one point agenda.
LAWRENCE: Mujahid says there is a huge gap of trust between the Taliban on one side and the government and international community on the other. That may apply especially to the High Peace Council. Despite a few members, like Mujahid, who are ex-Taliban, many more are former warlords who have shown no interest in the past in peace talks.
Mr. THOMAS RUTTIG (Senior Analyst, Afghan Analysts Network): Many people in Afghanistan I talked to are not convinced that these really people of peace, but more people of war.
LAWRENCE: Thomas Ruttig, of the Afghan Analysts Network in Kabul, says many of the warlords on the peace council are seen as a symbol of the corruption of the current government; a sentiment that feeds support for the Taliban. He thinks contact between the two sides is probably small scale at the local level in some provinces. And Ruttig says Afghan society is hardly unanimous in supporting a deal with the Taliban.
Mr. RUTTIG: You also need a real national consensus on the Afghan side that negotiations are really what most of the people want. And I see a lot of misgivings amongst a lot of groups; some of the former mujahedeen, some of the political parties, pro-democracy elements, the organized women, civil society in general who think that what is discussed in the moment is not about peace and reconciliation, but about a short cut political deal which will put in danger many of the few things which have been achieved since 2001.
LAWRENCE: Another major player is the U.S.-led coalition. A surge of U.S. troops last year has put great military pressure on the Taliban in its traditional strongholds in the south of the country. And that maybe aimed at pushing them to the negotiation table.
But former Taliban, like Mujahid, say that the military pressure - which has seen the death in combat of hundreds of Taliban field commanders - may be leaving behind a much more radical generation of the insurgency, one that is even less interested in peace or negotiation.
Quil Lawrence, NPR News.
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