Afghan President Hamid Karzai met today with Taliban-linked cleric Maulana Samiul Haq to discuss how to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, the Associated Press reported, a critical move toward reconcilation ahead of the planned US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Islamabad event marks the first formal contact between a senior Afghan official and representatives of the Afghan Taliban's presence in Pakistan, from which many Taliban leaders are believed to be operating.
It also comes two days after Karzai announced that three-way talks between the US, the Afghan government and the Taliban had reportedly taken place, signalling a possible change in strategy for the Taliban, who had long refused Karzai's overtures.
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The Afghan leader has not officially commented on today's meeting, but Haq told CNN that Karzai needs to provide a more detailed proposal for the reconciliation process before he can do anything. "What can I convey to the Taliban if their [the Afghan government's] demands and offers for solutions are not clear?" Haq told CNN. "Unless there's a concrete process in place, then things can't move forward."
The Taliban want two things from Karzai, Haq told CNN, the assurance that all foreign troops will leave Afghanistan, and the release of Afghan Taliban prisoners from US military detention centers Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Air Base.
US leaders have been pressing Karzai to engage Taliban leaders and move forward with the reconciliation process in the hopes for a peaceful end to nearly ten years of war there. According to AP, Haq told Karzai the Taliban leaders "do not trust you" and urged him to take a "clear position on what you can offer the Taliban."
Pakistan is believed to be sheltering many of the movement's key leaders, according to AP, including Taliban chief Mullah Omar. Pakistan told Karzai during his ongoing three-day visit that it was "preposterous" to suggest turning Omar over to Afghan authorities, reported AP.
US and Taliban leaders were said to be in dialogue last summer, but have yet to hold any formal meetings. The US is set to withdraw troops from Afghanistan starting in 2014.