Afghan Taliban sceptical of peace talks - ex-envoy

Afghan Taliban sceptical of peace talks - ex-envoy

A former top diplomat for the Taliban said a new government plan to persuade insurgents to lay down their arms in exchange for jobs or money was corrupt and would only hinder efforts to reach a peace deal, Reuters reported.

Abdul Salam Zaeef, who served as ambassador to Pakistan when the Taliban governed Afghanistan, told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday that the movement was also suspicious about foreign countries' and the Afghan government's motives in proposing peace talks at a time when they are beefing up military strength.

Afghanistan's government will soon announce details of the plan for getting Taliban fighters to lay down their arms. It will be a focus of a London conference on the country, where President Hamid Karzai is expected to seek funding for it.

Diplomats say the project includes jobs, training and economic incentives to lure militants away from the Taliban, who have intensified their insurgency in recent years despite tens of thousands of Afghan and international troops on the ground.

"I think the reintegration plan in itself is a blockade (to peace talks). Buying some of them with money itself is a corruption," Zaeef told Reuters.

Corruption is one of the biggest problems in Afghanistan at the moment -- a new United Nations survey showed ordinary Afghans rated it a bigger concern than security.

A ready supply of arms and chronic joblessness in parts of Afghanistan where the insurgency is strongest raise questions about how the reintegration scheme would be monitored.

"This reintegration process will further strengthen the Taliban," Zaeef said in the Kabul house where he lives with his family under the watch of the government.

He said the Taliban would resist the reintegration plan, as a policy that seemed designed to split the insurgency by sapping its fighting strength while the government sets up peace negotiations with its leaders.

The goal of the scheme is to try and reward whole communities rather than just fighters who put down their arms. The government hopes if enough men leave the insurgency, it will put pressure on the leadership to enter into reconciliation talks.

But the new plan comes when the insurgency is at its strongest since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, and fighters who think victory is in sight may be less interested in any offer.

The former diplomat said the time was not right for a peace plan, because of deep mistrust on both sides.

Asked if Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar -- the former boss he says he still respects -- might one day take part in talks Zaeef said: "Anything is possible."

He added that "sincerity" was the key to peace.

Zaeef, who spent several years in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay after the fall of the Taliban, also condemned the United States for pursuing a contradictory strategy in Afghanistan and said the Taliban shared his mistrust of Washington.

"While America is talking about peace talks, on the one hand it wants to divide the Taliban and buy some of them with money, and on the other hand it sends more troops for the war."

"These are all contradictory issues and no one can make decisions in such a situation. The Taliban say these are all a conspiracy against them and this will harden their position."

Zaeef is among a group of former Taliban officials living in Kabul and was among those approached by the Saudi government two years ago for advice on peace talks with the Taliban.

He also said he was recently offered a post in government, which he had turned down, although he had not met Karzai since after the presidential election last August.

He occasionally meets Western diplomats in Kabul, but says he has angered U.S. officials by taking calls from Taliban members leading the insurgency against foreign forces.

"I told them, 'I am not calling them. They are calling me'."

He confirmed Omar was still running the insurgent group.

"I do not know his whereabouts and how he is, but his commands are accepted. People respect him and I also respect him," Zaeef said.

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