Karzai seeks negotiations with Taliban

Karzai seeks negotiations with Taliban

"Military operations are no longer enough," Karzai told 'The Sunday Times' as the offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan continued to claim the lives of British and other coalition soldiers.

"We have to rethink the way we do things - without that there won't be any improvement. I don't think the increase in troops will address the problem. We need to concentrate on finding other avenues of defeating terrorism and seeking peace," the Afghan President said.

Favouring negotiations with the extremists, he said the Taliban, who are willing to return, should be brought back to the society.

"We must engage in negotiations, bring back those Taliban who are willing to return, who have been driven out by fear and coercion and the mistakes we've all made. They are part of this country and must be called back.

"If Mullah Omar wants to come and talk, he's welcome - it's the desire we have and we should try for it. Without sincere peace process on all sides, matters will only get worse," Karzai said.

Karzai welcomed a speech last week by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which she held out an olive branch to Taliban militants who renounce violence.

"We've been talking about this for years but didn't have enough support or understanding from our allies," he said. "I see in the new (US) administration a lot more willingness to engage in peace talks."

The Saudi government has already hosted some tentative negotiations. Karzai promised that, if re-elected as President, he would hold talks with the Taliban and other militant groups, such as Hezb Islami, as priority.

So far this month 46 foreign soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, 16 of them British.
"We don't want British mothers finding their 18-year-old sons coming home in coffins," Karzai said. "We're very sorry about what has happened in Helmand (province)."

He said he spoke twice to British Premier Gordon Brown in the past week. The second occasion was on Friday, when Brown telephoned to ask for more Afghan forces to enter the fray.

American soldiers have been pouring into Afghanistan over the past few months as the US more than doubled its strength from 32,000 to 68,000 this year, along with 36,000 troops from other western allies. This is partly to secure the country for the elections next month, yet the situation continues to worsen, the report said.

Karzai said he would emerge victor in the August 20 polls if the elections would be "free and fair", a strange remark from a man with all the resources of the government at his disposal, the paper reported.

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