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Afghan Factions Meeting In France

"This gathering is not about peace,” said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid. (file photo)
Afghan officials, representatives from the Taliban militia, and other factions are expected to start gathering on December 19 at a secret location near Paris.

Planned informal meetings through December 21, organized by a French think tank, are not expected to produce an immediate, concrete breakthrough in peace negotiations.

But Afghan political analyst Wahid Muzhda told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that the meeting could "pave the way for formal talks in the future."

The event is to be attended by representatives from the Taliban and Hizb-e Islami; figures from the former Northern Alliance who fought the Taliban and other militant groups for years; and members of the High Peace Council, the body appointed by the Afghan president tasked with negotiating with the Taliban.

The meeting comes as efforts are being intensified to reach an Afghan settlement as NATO prepares to pull out most combat troops in 2014.

"It is a good occasion because it will give a chance for those attending to get to know each other better and to talk," said Muzhda, a well-known analyst and former Taliban spokesman. "Even though this meeting is not formal, it does pave the way for formal talks in the future."

'Toward 2020'

The French Foreign Ministry has said the meeting -- called the “third inter-Afghan closed academic seminar” -- will bring together “participants from the various components of Afghan society for discussions on 'Afghanistan -- Toward 2020.'"

France, which hosted similar meetings in 2011 and earlier this year, says it has no direct involvement in the event other than hosting it.

But reports say officials from the French Foreign and Defense ministries are expected to attend.

The conference is being organized by the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research.

The event is described as significant since it is to be attended by representatives from the Taliban and Hizb-e Islami.

Speaking on French television and radio on December 16, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the conference will not be a negotiations forum.

But Fabius said Afghan President Hamid Karzai had told him that holding such a meeting was "desirable."

"The paradox is that if you want peace, it's between people from opposite sides, and over there [in Afghanistan] they don't talk to each other," Fabius said. "So there will be a discussion, but one cannot say there will be a negotiation."

'Not About Peace'

Last week, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid confirmed that two of the group’s representatives would participate to outline their policies.

“We are not going to discuss peace," he said. "This gathering is not about peace.”

Hizb-e Islami, led by Gulbuldin Hekmatyar, is to be represented by his son-in-law, Ghairat Baheer.

Ahead of the conference, Baheer said it was a “good forum for exchanging views and expressing oneself and understanding each other's point of view."

Figures of the former Northern Alliance are expected to include Ahmad Zia Masud, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, and Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq.

Mohaqeq, a member of the Peace Council, said, “We are going to talk about the peace process and all sides will be there.”

Since 2009, the Afghan government and its Western backers have been pushing peace and reconciliation talks with the Taliban. But there has been little progress.

In June, Afghan government negotiators met twice with representatives of the insurgency -- first at an informal meeting in Paris and later at an academic conference in Kyoto.

With reporting by “Le Monde,” “Dawn,” and Reuters
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