updated 2/14/2005 7:43:13 PM ET 2005-02-15T00:43:13

Senior members of the former Taliban government have agreed to join a reconciliation process to be announced soon by the Afghan government, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan said Monday.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said there had been a “positive response” to overtures from U.S. and Afghan officials, which have intensified in recent months.

“Quite a number of people associated with the Taliban have taken advantage of it already and are living in their areas. They’ve come in, and some senior members have also come in,” Khalilzad said at a news conference.

He would not give details about the reconciliation program, but he said there would likely be an announcement from the Afghan government in coming days.

Seeking stability in troubled region
Khalilzad and the U.S. military are pressing President Hamid Karzai to reach out to “non-criminal” members of the Taliban, many of whom are believed to have taken refuge in neighboring Pakistan after a U.S. bombing campaign ousted the former militia following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

Officials hope such a program can help defuse the stubborn insurgency, which is hampering badly needed reconstruction and continues launching attacks against U.S. soldiers.

U.S. commanders and Afghan officials insist that many followers of the Taliban are growing disillusioned, but they have yet to produce evidence that figures with real influence among militant groups are ready to support the U.S.-backed government.

It also remains unclear how the offer to former Taliban relates to another proposed national reconciliation program, which the United Nations and the main Afghan human rights group say should include the prosecution of war criminals from the country’s long wars.

Khalilzad said the offer was also open to young Afghans “misguided” by former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has joined the Taliban in vowing to oust Karzai and drive out foreign troops.

Hekmatyar remained on the blacklist, he said.

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