Taliban rejects gov’t talks

KABUL, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai’s office said Sunday that there is ‘serious debate’ among some Taliban fighters about laying down arms, while a spokesman for the militants said they will ‘never’ negotiate with Afghan authorities until foreign troops leave.

Clashes and airstrikes, meanwhile, killed 16 people, capping a week that saw more than 270 people die in insurgency-related violence.

Karzai said Saturday he would be willing to meet personally with Taliban leader Mullah Omar and give militants a position in government in exchange for peace. Karzai spokesman Humayun Hamidzada on Sunday stressed that the militants would have to accept Afghanistan’s constitution.

But Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi repeated a position he announced earlier this month, saying there would be no negotiations until U.S. and NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

‘The Taliban will never negotiate with the Afghan government in the presence of foreign forces,’ Ahmadi told The Associated Press. ‘Even if Karzai gives up his presidency, it’s not possible that Mullah Omar would agree to negotiations.’

But Karzai’s spokesman said the government has information of a ‘serious debate’ in some groups of Taliban about how long militants want to continue fighting. The U.N. and NATO have also said they see similar indications.

‘They want to live in peace and have a comfortable life with their families,’ Hamidzada said. ‘There is serious debate within their ranks, but this is a process that takes time.’

Karzai traveled to the U.N. General Assembly in New York last week, and Hamidzada said that the U.N. secretary-general and the foreign ministers of many countries, ‘everyone with one voice said we need a comprehensive strategy in dealing with the Taliban – both military and diplomatic components.’