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Taliban Ready For Afghan Peace Talks

The Taliban says its political wing is ready to enter peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan, but that it will not give up its armed struggle against international forces.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahed, said the insurgent group has stepped up its efforts to bring about peace in the troubled nation. But, in the e-mailed statement, he also reiterated the Taliban's opposition to the current Afghan constitution and referred to the government led by President Hamid Karzai as a "stooge" administration.

U.S. special representative Marc Grossman (File)

U.S. special representative Marc Grossman (File)

The comments come as the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, prepares to lead a delegation to Afghanistan next week in an effort to get approval from President Karzai for the resumption of preliminary talks with the Taliban.

Earlier this month, the Afghan Taliban said it had reached a preliminary agreement to open a political office in the Gulf state of Qatar, in a move that could help facilitate the talks.

Spokesman Mujahid said in a statement that the Taliban is asking for the release of prisoners held at the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.

In Washington Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said no decisions have been made about releasing Taliban prisoners.

Clinton said the United States was ready to support an Afghan-led reconciliation process. But she reiterated that any power-sharing deal would have to involve insurgents renouncing violence, breaking ties with al-Qaida and accepting the Afghan constitution.

The secretary also indicated progress in efforts to open a Taliban political office in Qatar, citing "positive statements" from President Karzai and the Taliban.

In December, Vice President Joe Biden said the Afghan Taliban are not America's enemies, and that the insurgent group did not represent a threat to the United States unless it continued to harbor al-Qaida terrorists.

U.S.-led forces ousted Afghanistan's Taliban government following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Those attacks were carried out by al-Qaida, which had training camps in Afghanistan.

The Taliban's statement on peace talks comes as violence continues in Afghanistan.

A suicide car bomber killed five people, including a local district chief, in southern Afghanistan on Thursday.

Provincial officials say the governor of Kandahar province's Panjwayi district, Fazluddin Agha, was traveling in his car with his two sons when the bomber rammed a vehicle full of explosives into them near Kandahar city. All three were killed, as well as two of the district governor's guards.

Officials say nine police officers and a civilian were wounded.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.