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Afghanistan Invites Taliban Leadership To Direct Peace Talks

A group of 20 Taliban militants in Afghanistan's Herat Province give up their weapons on February 20.
KABUL -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has invited the Taliban leadership to direct talks with his government, while urging Pakistan to help with negotiations.

Karzai said earlier that his government talks to the Taliban "every day" through intermediaries about a potential settlement of the Afghan conflict, and that he had already communicated indirectly with Mullah Mohammad Omar, who heads the Taliban's Quetta Shura.

In a related development, a member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council said he was optimistic about the outcome of potential peace talks with the Taliban.

Ismail Qasim Yar told RFE/RL that "until recently, the Taliban leadership would say they wouldn't start negotiations if there was even one American soldier in Afghanistan."

But now, he said, with tens of thousands of U.S. troops still in Afghanistan, the Taliban has been "engaged in talks with U.S. officials for some months."

He added that the first steps were being taken to pave the way for direct peace talks, which he said could begin "soon."

So far preliminary issues, such as an exchange of prisoners, are being discussed.

The 70-member Peace Council was set up two years ago.