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Sunday, December 9, 2012 - Page updated at 05:00 p.m.

Karzai peace plan would have Pakistan handle talks, Taliban in government

By Jonathan S. Landay
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — The Afghan government is pursuing a new peace initiative in which Pakistan would replace the United States in arranging direct talks between the warring sides and the Taliban would be granted government posts that effectively could cede to them political control of their southern and eastern strongholds.

If implemented, the plan would diminish the role of the United States but leave it with input on a number of critical issues, including the terms for initiating negotiations. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Great Britain also would be involved.

The plan envisions ending the war by 2015 through a cease-fire and negotiations in the second half of next year, most likely in Saudi Arabia. Pakistan would help select the leaders of the Taliban and other rebel groups who would take part in the negotiations with the Afghan government.

The effort, the plan says, should be conducted "through one consistent and coherent channel," a measure that would secure a role for Afghan President Hamid Karzai after the end of his term after April 2014 elections.

Another provision would give the insurgents a voice on "issues related ... to the withdrawal" of the U.S.-led NATO force by the end of 2014.

The plan foresees the United States working with Afghanistan and Pakistan to determine which insurgent leaders would participate. The United States also would be crucial to approving the removal of the insurgent negotiators from the U.N.'s list of terrorists.

The blueprint, "Peace Process Roadmap to 2015," represents a decision by Karzai — in close coordination with Pakistan — to assume the lead in peacemaking efforts after the collapse this year of an Obama administration bid to persuade the Taliban to participate in direct talks with Kabul.

The new initiative comes amid persistent distrust between Karzai and the Obama administration and deep insecurity in Kabul over future U.S. support.

Those concerns and the U.S. failure to arrange peace talks appear to have pushed Karzai closer to Pakistan, whose army and main intelligence service are widely believed to exercise significant influence over Taliban and other militant leaders based in Pakistan's border areas with Afghanistan.

The plan also comes as the U.S. combat-troop pullout and cuts in U.S. financial aid to Afghanistan are fueling fears in both countries that violence and instability could worsen.

The blueprint, a copy of which was obtained by McClatchy, officially is the work of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, which is charged with overseeing government-peace efforts. But it was drafted by Karzai and his inner circle during the past six months in coordination with Pakistan, according to a person familiar with the document who requested anonymity.

The plan was presented to Pakistan and the United States during visits last month by High Peace Council Chairman Salauddin Rabbani, who was named by Karzai to the post after Rabbani's father, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated in May 2011.

The State Department declined to comment on the plan, refusing even to confirm its existence. However, a State Department official, who requested anonymity, said: "The United States continues to support an Afghan-led peace process and welcomes initiatives through which Afghans sit down with other Afghans in pursuit of that goal." The Afghan Embassy did not respond to a request to discuss the plan.

A major assumption is that all insurgent leaders and their fighters will participate even though the Taliban have consistently rejected negotiations with Karzai. But the insurgency is far from being monolithic, and many leaders are known to distrust each other and Pakistan.

In an incident illustrating the hurdles, two Taliban factions claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing Thursday that seriously wounded Asadullah Khalid, chief of Afghanistan intelligence service. Karzai on Saturday claimed the attack was planned in Pakistan, but denied the Taliban were responsible.

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