January 12, 2016 10:47 am

Senior Afghan official warns Taliban against staying out of the peace process

Afghanistan's acting defense minister Masoom Stanekzai talks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. Reinforcements have been rushed to a besieged southern district threatened for days with takeover by Taliban fighters, Afghanistan's acting defense minister said on Wednesday.

AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini

KABUL – A senior Afghan official on Tuesday warned the Taliban against staying out of the peace process with the government in Kabul, saying that insurgents who opt for war will face serious consequences.

The remarks by Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai came after he returned from a four-country meeting in Islamabad that worked on a roadmap for ending Afghanistan’s 14-year war.

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Karzai said all participants at Monday’s gathering — Afghanistan, the United States, Pakistan and China — wanted to bring “permanent peace” to his country.

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Most Taliban want peace, he told reporters, but he added that “we will use all the means we have against those who do not.” He also described the country’s conflict as “not a war between Afghans” and stressed the involvement of “foreign elements.”

Kabul officials have long accused Pakistan of sponsoring the Taliban in cities near the Afghan border, including Quetta and Peshawar – accusations that Islamabad denies.

The Taliban were not invited to the one-day meeting.

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Though the participants agreed to meet again in Kabul on Jan. 18, also without Taliban participation, little else is known about the outcome of the gathering.

Ahead of the gathering, however, an Afghan government spokesman had told The Associated Press that the Pakistani side was expected to present a list of Taliban representatives willing to negotiate with Kabul.

Javid Faisal said that Afghanistan and Pakistan had also agreed on “bilateral co-operation on eliminating terrorism,” a reference to insurgents who opt to stay in the fight.

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Monday’s meeting aimed to revive a process that collapsed last summer after Afghanistan announced that Mullah Mohammad Omar, founder and leader of the Taliban, had died in a Pakistani hospital more than two years ago.

The announcement led the Taliban to pull out of the talks after just one meeting hosted by Islamabad. A subsequent power struggle within the Taliban has raised questions about who would represent the insurgents if and when the talks with Kabul are restarted.

Karzai referred to three groups of potential interlocutors – that led by Mullah Omar’s former deputy and successor Mullah Akhtar Mansoor; a breakaway faction led by Mullah Muhammad Rasool; and the Haqqani network, a brutal group with close ties to Mansoor that the U.S. has listed as a terrorist organization.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks since the U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in Afghanistan a year ago, and the insurgents are battling local Afghan security forces on several fronts. Last year the Taliban seized the northern city of Kunduz and held it for three days before being driven out by a costly counteroffensive.

Associated Press writer Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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