Karzai meets with insurgent group

President Hamid Karzai met with representatives of a major Taliban-linked insurgent group in a step toward national reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with representatives of a major Taliban-linked insurgent group in a step toward national reconciliation, officials said Monday.

Officials of the group, whose fighters operate in the east and north of the country, said the delegation brought a 15-point peace plan, which calls for all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan within six months beginning in July, a full year before U.S. President Barack Obama would begin removing U.S. forces.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with insurgent leaders Monday.
Talking with the Taliban and other insurgent groups is gaining traction in Afghanistan, even as thousands of U.S. and NATO reinforcements are streaming into the country to try and reverse the insurgents' momentum.

Deputy spokesman Hamed Elmi would not say when the meeting with the delegation from Hizb-i-Islami took place or give any details of what was discussed.

A member of the Hizb-i-Islami insurgent movement, led by former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, said the meeting occurred Monday morning and that further talks were expected.

"I can confirm that a delegation of Hizb-i-Islami has arrived in Kabul with a plan and has met with the president," Elmi said.

The leader of the delegation is Qutbudin Halal, who served as first deputy prime minister under president Burhanuddin Rabbani in the 1990s, and includes a Hekmatyar son-in-law.

Replace government

The plan also calls for the current Afghan parliament to serve through December. After that, the parliament would be replaced by an interim government, or shura, which would hold local and national elections within a year.

'The West and Mr. Hekmatyar will have to show flexibility and creativity'—Daoud Sultanzoy, Afghan MP

A new Afghan constitution would be written, merging the current version with ones used earlier.

"The president will study the concepts, but we're not in a position to comment on the concepts that they provided," said Karzai's chief spokesman Waheed Omar.

Harun Zarghun, chief spokesman for Hizb-i-Islami, said the delegation also hopes to meet with Taliban leaders somewhere in Afghanistan. The U.S. Embassy, however, said there would be no meetings with U.S. officials.

International community must be 'flexible'

Daoud Sultanzoy, member of parliament for Ghazni, told the Canadian Press that the international community will need to be flexible if the negotiations are to succeed.

"The West and Mr. Hekmatyar will have to show flexibility and creativity," Sultanzoy, said.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks is that the 63-year-old Hekmatyar was named a "specially designated global terrorist" by the Bush Administration in 2003. He would have to be granted some form of immunity, as happened with other Afghan warlords.

Sultanzoy cautioned that western nations need to show a little trust in the Afghans on choices about their own future. "Sincerity will be very important," he said.

Hekmatyar, who is in his 60s, was a major recipient of U.S. military aid during the war against the Soviets in the 1980s but fell out of favour with Washington because of his role in the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal.

He was considered a close ally of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden but offered in 2007 to negotiate with the Karzai government.

The UN's former envoy to Afghanistan, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, said last week that he and other UN officials had been in discussions with senior Taliban officials since last year.

The news comes as NATO announced that two more service members were killed Monday in separate explosions in southern Afghanistan.

with files from The Canadian Press