Kabul sets ambitious 'roadmap for peace' with Taliban



Kabul: Kabul has laid out an ambitious five-step plan that could bring hardline Taliban Islamists into government as efforts to broker peace accelerate ahead of the withdrawal of Western troops. The first step in the "Peace Process Roadmap to 2015", obtained by AFP this week, calls for a focus on "securing the collaboration of Pakistan", which Kabul accuses of harbouring Taliban insurgents.

This should be followed by moves towards formal direct negotiations with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia in the first half of next year, with the backing of the US and Pakistan, the four-page document says. The Taliban, however, have so far publicly refused to talk directly with the government of President Hamid Karzai, dismissing him as a puppet of the Americans.

The US itself began exploratory contacts with the Taliban in Qatar this year, but the Islamists broke them off a few months later. Step three of the roadmap, set for the second half of 2013, calls for agreements on a ceasefire and the transformation of the Taliban and other armed groups into political parties which could take part in elections.

Leaders of the Taliban could also participate "in the power structure of the state, to include non-elected positions at different levels". The final steps in the plan include securing a peaceful end to the conflict during the first half of 2014 and moves to sustain the "long-term security and stability of Afghanistan and the region".

The Taliban regime was ousted by a US-led invasion in 2001 and there are concerns that their return to any sort of power could see an erosion of gains in democracy and human rights, particularly the rights of women. But with the the United States and NATO due to withdraw their combat troops in 2014, there are also concerns that a multi-sided civil war could erupt, and the search for peace has taken on a new urgency.

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