President Hamid Karzai’s office said Sunday that there is “serious debate” among some Taliban fighters about laying down arms, while a spokesman for the militants said they will “never” negotiate with Afghan authorities until foreign troops leave.
Clashes and airstrikes, meanwhile, killed 16 people, capping a week that saw more than 270 people die in insurgency-related violence.
Karzai said Saturday he would be willing to meet personally with Taliban leader Mullah Omar and give militants a position in government in exchange for peace. Karzai spokesman Humayun Hamidzada on Sunday stressed that the militants would have to accept Afghanistan’s constitution.
But Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi repeated a position he announced earlier this month, saying there would be no negotiations until U.S. and NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
“The Taliban will never negotiate with the Afghan government in the presence of foreign forces,” Ahmadi told The Associated Press. “Even if Karzai gives up his presidency, it’s not possible that Mullah Omar would agree to negotiations.”
But Karzai’s spokesman said the government has information of a “serious debate” in some groups of Taliban about how long militants want to continue fighting. The U.N. and NATO have also said they see similar indications.
“They want to live in peace and have a comfortable life with their families,” Hamidzada said. “There is serious debate within their ranks, but this is a process that takes time.”
Karzai traveled to the U.N. General Assembly in New York last week, and Hamidzada said that the U.N. secretary-general and the foreign ministers of many countries, “everyone with one voice said we need a comprehensive strategy in dealing with the Taliban — both military and diplomatic components.”
Violence killed 270 in a week
He said Karzai and President Bush also spoke generally about the Taliban reconciliation process and said Bush also supports such initiatives. It was not clear if that would include broader Taliban peace talks beyond the individual reconciliation process that has seen more than 4,500 fighters lay down their arms the last two years.
Karzai’s latest peace overture came as insurgency-related violence continued to climb. Thirty people were killed in a suicide bomb attack on a military bus Saturday in Kabul.
More than 270 have died in violence since last Sunday — 180 of them militants, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Afghan and Western officials.
In the latest violence, insurgents ambushed a convoy of foreign troops in eastern Paktia province on Saturday. After a brief gunbattle, airstrikes were called in that killed 11 militants, a provincial police official said Sunday on condition of anonymity because he was unauthorized to speak publicly.
The U.S. coalition said it was not involved in the battle, and NATO was looking into the report.
Another battle in Paktia between police and militants on Saturday left one suspected insurgent dead, the police official said.
In neighboring Ghazni province, coalition forces fought with insurgents, killing two Taliban on Saturday in Andar district, said deputy provincial police chief Mohammad Zaman.
Police in Kandahar city discovered a landmine that exploded while they were trying to defuse it, killing two police, said Kandahar deputy provincial police chief Abdul Hakim Hungar.
Military officials said they expected a spike in violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan based on an increase in attacks last year during the same period.
The death toll this week includes more than 165 militants killed during two battles between the Taliban and joint Afghan-coalition forces, and the 30 soldiers and civilians killed in the Kabul suicide bombing.
Militant attacks and military operations have killed more than 4,600 people so far this year, most of them insurgents, according to the AP count.