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Taliban Arrests Thwart Afghan Talks, Ex-UN Envoy Says

Kai Eide
LONDON (Reuters) -- The arrests of senior Afghan Taliban members in Pakistan have stopped most talks between the insurgents and UN representatives, the former head of the UN mission in Afghanistan said in a BBC interview.

Norwegian Kai Eide, who stepped down this month, said talks dried up several weeks ago after more than a dozen prominent Taliban members were held in joint U.S.-Pakistan operations.

"Most communications stopped," he told the BBC World Service, according to extracts of the interview released by the BBC on March 18. "The effect of [the arrests]...was certainly negative on our possibility of continuing the political process."

Contact with the Taliban began in spring 2009, paused during the elections in August, and picked up after the vote until the arrests in Pakistan all but halted the process, he added.

Eide said his team met senior Taliban leaders and officials who had the authority of the group's ruling council, the Quetta Shura. A UN official told Reuters in January that one meeting took place in Dubai in January.

Asked if he thought Pakistan wanted to end the talks because it wanted to be in control of the process, Eide replied: "I find that interpretation to be probably the right one."

"Do I believe that Pakistan plays the role it should in promoting a political dialogue that is necessary for ending the conflict in Afghanistan? No, the Pakistanis did not play the role that they should have played."

Talks with the Taliban are "long overdue" and the arrests in recent weeks may have hardened the insurgents, making it harder to get their leaders to negotiate, he added.

The idea of talking to a group that has killed hundreds of coalition soldiers and has a long record of human rights abuses is sensitive, particularly in Britain and the United States.

The United States has so far backed attempts to persuade lower- and mid-level insurgents to stop fighting, but has resisted dealing with their leaders.

The United Nations is ready to continue informal talks with the Taliban but the contact must be discreet, diplomats said earlier this week.