KABUL (AFP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai is negotiating with former Taliban members, according to a transcript of his remarks received Monday, as he prepares to bring the war-wracked country to its first elections since the fall of the fundamentalist regime.
Karzai outlined the talks in a speech during a visit Sunday to the Taliban’s former stronghold and spiritual headquarters of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s main southern city and the heart of the restive Pashtun ethnic belt.
“At the moment some of their elders are in talks with us, we are happy with this,” Karzai said without naming the leaders. “Taliban have contacted us, it has been a long time they are talking with us and we are talking with them. We know them, we know them from the past.”
The visit was Karzai’s first to Kandahar since he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt there in September 2002.
He said former Taliban were welcome to help rebuild the country.
“For us, any person whether they are a Taliban or a non-Taliban who has contacts with terrorism and is acting against Afghanistan, against the reconstruction of this country, against the education and welfare of the children of this country, they are against Afghanistan and we don’t accept them.
“Other people, Taliban and non-Taliban whoever they are, especially among Taliban who want to come and live in their country, farm, work, do business and live, they are welcome. It is their country, it is their home,” Karzai said, speaking in the Pashtun-dominated region’s native Pashto language. “Our problem is only with those who destroy Afghanistan … we are opposed to those people, the rest are welcome.”
Karzai has previously said the government was prepared to negotiate with former Taliban fighters and low-level members but there would be no amnesty for some 150 terrorists and those guilty of war crimes.
Although many Taliban fled to Pakistan following the fall of the regime, the majority are believed to be back in their homes and villages in Afghanistan.
Karzai, himself a Pashtun from Kandahar Province, said more violence was expected as elections drew nearer.
“Terrorism and the enemies of Afghanistan will try ahead of elections to disturb elections and security, they will try to manage terrorist operations but it will not stop the process of the elections, it will not disturb the elections,” he said.
The Taliban came to prominence in 1996 on a wave of popular support led by fugitive leader Mullah Omar but the movement became known for its harsh interpretation of Islamic laws and near total repression of girls and women.
The regime fell in late 2001 after a U.S.-led coalition offensive after the Taliban refused to surrender Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.