Taliban spokesman dismisses London talks on Afghan war

A Taliban spokesman on Wednesday dismissed the outcome of a conference in London between the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Britain which aimed to work towards a peace deal within six months.

But Zabihullah Mujahid, writing on the militia's website, did not appear to reject the possibility of progress in other peace talks.

The Taliban have demanded that any negotiations should be between themselves and the United States.

The conference and other "horse trading" were "the real obstacles of effective and fruitful negotiations between the factual sides", wrote Mujahid in English in an apparent reference to that longstanding demand.

The Islamist militants broke off tentative contacts with the US in Qatar in March last year after the failure of attempts to negotiate a prisoner exchange as a confidence-building measure.

The Taliban have consistently refused to negotiate directly with the Western-backed Kabul government, which they have been battling since they were ousted from power in a 2001 US-led invasion.

Mujahid accused Western forces of facing military defeat and using such conferences as propaganda to conceal the deadlock in the country and to "show that some activity and progress is going on".

US-led NATO combat forces are due to leave Afghanistan next year, and efforts to negotiate peace have gained urgency as they seek to leave with some dignity.

Mujahid told AFP by telephone that the views in the lengthy website "article" would be followed soon by an official Taliban response to the conference.

The leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan said in London on Monday they would work to reach a peace deal within six months, while throwing their weight behind moves for the Taliban to open an office in Doha.

Following talks hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari also urged the Islamists to join the reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

But with neither the Taliban nor the United States at the talks, and the militants refusing to talk to Kabul, analysts said the commitment by the three leaders risked being one-sided.

Mujahid indicated that this was indeed the view of the Taliban, saying "they are taking propaganda gain from the peace slogan and are not trying to take any practical step to fulfill the prerequisites of negotiations".

Analyst Waheed Muzhda, who served in the 1996-2001 Taliban government, said the Taliban spokesman did not appear to reject the possibility of progress in peace talks.

"It is believed that the Taliban are under some pressure by those who are believed to be their main backers, including Pakistan, to reach some kind of accord with the Kabul government soon," Muzhda said.

"But the announcement in London that some sort of peace will be achieved within the next six months has put the Taliban in an uneasy situation.

"Even if they agree, they can't accept and announce it outright, as this will show they are somehow related to and controlled by the Pakistanis."

Both the West and Karzai say Pakistan's involvement is crucial to any deal because of their past support for the Taliban and the fact that the insurgents operate from bases within the country.

Pakistan recently released some Taliban prisoners, a move Kabul believes could help bring militants to the negotiating table.

A joint statement in London said that the Afghan and Pakistani leaders had agreed arrangements to "strengthen coordination" of the release of more Taliban detainees from Pakistani custody.

The conference also revived the idea of the Taliban opening a political office in Doha to ease moves towards peace talks.