Global Policy Forum

Taliban and Opposition Forces Are Said to Agree to Peace Talks


By Barbara Crossette

New York Times
November 4, 2000

The Taliban of Afghanistan and an opposition still fighting them along their northern border have agreed to begin talks toward ending the latest phase of a two-decade civil war, the United Nations official who brokered the agreement said today.

"I do not want to call this a breakthrough," the diplomat, Francesc Vendrell, the secretary general's special envoy for Afghanistan, said in an interview. "Only time will tell." But he said this was the first time that the two sides had committed themselves in writing to what could be a lengthy process of negotiations. Previous attempts at talks have failed because of walkouts.

The Taliban know they are not likely to win international recognition until their government is more inclusive of ethnic, political and religious groups and more accountable to its citizens, who have suffered repeated cycles of civil war.

Mr. Vendrell, who will begin shuttling next week between the sides, said at a news conference later that he hoped to start talks before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins around Nov. 26. A cease-fire is not part of the initial agreement, Mr. Vendrell said, explaining that he did not believe either side wanted one at this point. A cease-fire would also be very difficult to verify, he said, and could easily be broken. Moreover, he added, with the approach of winter, fighting will soon have to ease.

Mr. Vendrell is in New York to report to a meeting of the six nations that border Afghanistan -- Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and Pakistan -- plus Russia and the United States. Moscow and Washington are trying to find support for additional sanctions on the Taliban. Mr. Vendrell and several diplomats said today that the Security Council was divided because of concerns that sanctions already in place might be harming the people of Afghanistan.

Sanctions were first imposed last year at the behest of the United States, which is demanding that Afghanistan turn over the fugitive Saudi financier Osama bin Laden, who is living there. Mr. bin Laden is believed to have masterminded the bombings of American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

The United States and Russia have been proposing a ban on arms sales or aid to the Taliban. At the same time, Russia is aiding the Taliban's enemies. This complicates attitudes in Central Asia, where there has been a trend toward accommodation with the Afghan Islamic movement in order to ease the flow of Afghan heroin and militancy.

On the other side, the Taliban have been receiving arms and other military support from Pakistan, which has not responded to pressures from the United States to pull back. Regional nations as well as Russia fear that arms caches can serve the purposes of Islamic militants anywhere in the world.

The original sanctions, including a ban on commercial air traffic and restrictions on international financial dealings, have not won the release of Mr. bin Laden. They are widely regarded as most onerous for poor, landlocked Afghans with no other links to the outside world for their meager exports or imports. In addition, private aid organizations have been hampered in their work.

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