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Afghan Haqqani faction would consider talks under Taliban

14 November, 2012

PESHAWAR: The Haqqani network, seen as the most lethal insurgent faction in Afghanistan, would take part in peace talks with the United States but only under the direction of their Afghan Taliban leaders, a top faction commander said on Tuesday.

The rare flexibility exhibited by an Afghan militant commander was accompanied by a warning that the Haqqanis would keep up pressure on Western forces with high-profile attacks and would pursue their goal of establishing an Islamic state. The Haqqanis, who operate out of the unruly border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, say they are part of the Afghan Taliban and must act in unison in any peace process. The commander, who declined to be identified, accused the United States of being insincere in peace efforts and trying to divide the two organisations.

"However, if the central shura, headed by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, decided to hold talks with the United States, we would welcome it," he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed, referring to the militants' leadership council. The Taliban said in March they were suspending nascent peace talks with the United States. A senior Afghan official closely involved with reconciliation efforts said last week the government had failed to secure direct talks with the Taliban and no significant progress was expected before 2014.

The United States designated the Haqqani network a terrorist organisation in September, a move its commanders said proved Washington was not sincere about peace efforts in Afghanistan. Last week, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on the Haqqanis. Isolating the group, who were blamed for the 18-hour attack on embassies and parliament in Kabul in April, could complicate efforts to secure peace at a time when Afghans fear another civil war could erupt after Western forces withdraw.

The Haqqani network may prove to be President Barack Obama's biggest security challenge as he tries to stabilise Afghanistan before most NATO combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014. The group's experience in guerrilla fighting dating back to the anti-Soviet war in the 1980s and its substantial financial network, could make it the ultimate spoiler of peace efforts.

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