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Taliban leaders report progress in secret talks with the US and Afghanistan

Moderate Taliban make headway in negotiations with militants.

Arsalla Rahmani in Kabul, June 2009. (Seamus Murphy)

KABUL — Moderate leaders of the Taliban say they have quietly and steadily made progress in third-party talks between the active Taliban insurgency and representatives of the Afghan and U.S. governments.

Two Taliban leaders — who held high-ranking positions in the now-deposed Taliban government and who are directly involved in the talks — say they’ve recently established a framework of an agreement through the shuttle negotiations. They say the process has included contact with the spiritual leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The talks began last year under the auspices of Saudi Arabia and have involved a series of secret meetings in Mecca, including a gathering several months ago. Observers have for months maintained that the Saudi talks have produced more rumors than real progress.

But now, in extensive interviews with GlobalPost two former Taliban officials directly involved — Abdul Hakim Muhajid and Arsalla Rahmani — said negotiations have gained momentum and laid the groundwork for real movement.

Rahmani went so far as to say a deal could be reached before Afghanistan’s August presidential elections. (Click here to listen to an interview on "The World" regarding this topic.)

Within the Taliban government that was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Rahmani held several cabinet postings as head of the Ministry of Higher Education and as minister of the Haj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Muhajid and Rahmani said they have provided a “third party channel” to the Afghan government and had “limited” and “unofficial” contact with U.S. representatives.

The talks are built primarily around contacts within the Taliban’s still-underground leadership, including Mullah Omar, who is believed to be hiding in Quetta, Pakistan along with other clerical leaders of active insurgent wings. These other Taliban clerical leaders involved in the talks include Mullah Bradar, Mullah Mamsur and Mullah Abdul Jalil.

Also included in the negotiations is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the notorious renegade Afghan warlord whose active insurgency continues to fight against U.S. and coalition forces.
Two former Pakistani intelligence officials say a deal was underway in which Hekmatyar would call for an end to his insurgency and be allowed to live above ground in Saudi Arabia with a budget of $85 million. At least one Afghan government official confirmed that a deal with Hekmatyar was being assembled.

It is widely considered unlikely that the U.S. would accept any deal in which Mullah Omar or Hekmatyar is granted immunity from prosecution.