Moderate Taliban Invited


By Rory McCarthy

November 26, 2001

The political leader of the Northern Alliance invited Taliban officials last night to join a future government for Afghanistan, hours after a senior figure from the Islamist regime defected.

Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president, said individual Taliban officials could come forward to join a new government without facing punishment.

"I should emphasise that as an organisation or party the Taliban will not be included," Mr Rabbani said. "But as individuals they will not be held guilty. Those that don't have very obvious guilt and are elected by a loya jirga [grand council] are acceptable."

A selection of Afghan figures will meet in Bonn tomorrow for the first round of UN-sponsored talks to draw up a new, broader government which will begin with a loya jirga.

Representatives from the Northern Alliance and exiled Pashtun groups will attend, but no one from the Taliban or any other commander in southern Afghanistan has been invited. Pakistan, the hardline regime's greatest ally, has pressed to have "moderate" Taliban included in the talks.

Mullah Khaksar, the Taliban's former intelligence chief and deputy interior minister, became the first senior figure in the movement to defect when he announced his support for the Northern Alliance over the weekend.

At a press conference late on Saturday night he said he had decided to leave the Taliban movement when Kabul fell two weeks ago and insisted he had long opposed the presence of the hardline Arab contingent who gathered around Osama bin Laden, a man he described as a "terrorist".

"I was against the presence of foreigners. Due to their presence the country is destroyed," he said. He promised his "cooperation" to coalition forces hunting for Bin Laden and members of the al-Qaida network.

As concern mounted last night over the fate of Taliban, Arab and Pakistani fighters still trapped in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz Mr Rabbani offered to hand all foreign prisoners to the UN and promised there would be no retaliatory killings. "These foreigners who ask for pardons from us, we will hand over to the United Nations, they will know what to do," he said yesterday. "If they are killed in fighting, that is their destiny."

Despite his offer there is no indication that the UN is prepared to accept the 3,000 Arab, Pakistani and Chechen gunmen who remained in Kunduz, the last Taliban posi tion in northern Afghanistan.

As Northern Alliance troops moved into the city last night, several Pashtun commanders who are close to the Pakistani authorities held secret, high-level meetings in Kabul to negotiate the release and an amnesty for the hundreds of Pakistani fighters arrested since the Taliban collapsed.

The commanders, led by Qazi Mohammad Amin Waqad, have spent the past five years in powerless exile in Pakistan's North West Frontier province. Ten days ago they crossed into the eastern Afghan provinces to claim back their territory and regroup their soldiers. Now they have reached Kabul.

"We want to avoid people taking revenge against the Pakistanis," Mr Waqad said. "These people are our brothers and we want to help them get out of this situation. It is our duty to cooperate."

Several thousand Pakistani militants crossed old dirt tracks through the tribal areas into Afghanistan to support the Taliban during the US military strikes.

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