Afghan leader offers Taliban protection for peace


KABUL: November 16, 2008. (AFP) Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday he would go to "any length" to protect the fugitive leader of the insurgent Taliban militia, Mullah Mohammad Omar, in exchange for peace.

Karzai told reporters he would offer the protection even if it meant defying Afghanistan's international partners, who could remove him from his job or leave the country in disagreement. "If I hear from him that he is willing to come to Afghanistan or to negotiate for peace ... I, as the president of Afghanistan, will go to any length to provide protection," Karzai said. "If I say I want protection for Mullah Omar, the international community has two choices -- remove me or leave if they disagree," he said. But Karzai added that his government was not yet ready to make such an offer to Mullah Omar, head of the 1996 to 2001 Taliban government who is wanted by the United States and has a multi-million-dollar reward on his head. "Right now I have to hear from the Taliban leadership that they are willing to bring peace for Afghanistan. They must prove themselves." Karzai has for years pushed for peace talks with the Taliban as a way out of a deadly insurgency in which foreign militants, including those from Al-Qaeda, are said to be playing a part. However he has always insisted that his government would only consider talks with "Afghan Taliban" who do not have ties with Al-Qaeda and agree to lay down their weapons and accept the post-Taliban constitution. The Taliban, driven from government in a US-led invasion for sheltering Al-Qaeda after the September 2001 attacks, have said they would only agree to negotiations if international troops helping the government pull out. But Karzai reiterated Sunday that his government would accept no preconditions from the group. "If they want to negotiate only for the sake of peace, they are welcome," Karzai said. Insurgent attacks have grown steadily in Afghanistan despite the efforts of the developing Afghan security forces and over 60,000 international soldiers. International military commanders have called for more troops and equipment as well as a revised strategy to confront the militants.

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