Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Afghan minorities back peace talks

Afghan opposition leader Ahmad Zia Masood, right, greets supporters at the airport in Kabul after returning from Germany (AP)

Prominent Afghan opposition leaders have said that they support possible US-brokered peace negotiations with Taliban militants, but want to be part of any talks.

Members of a coalition representing Afghanistan's ethnic minorities spoke as they returned from a conference in Berlin, where they met US congressional leaders.

Most of the delegation fought in the Northern Alliance against the Taliban government in the 1990s.

Minority support for any peace process is crucial because many former Northern Alliance figures wield power and influence, raising the possibility of civil strife if they do not approve of a deal with their long-time enemy.

The Taliban recently said they will open a political office in the Gulf state of Qatar and expressed interest in negotiations with the US, but it is so far unclear what other Afghan factions might be involved.

The Taliban persist in referring to President Hamid Karzai's government as a puppet and stooge of foreign powers.

Prominent Tajik minority leader Ahmad Zia Masood said he supports peace talks, but added that the government should be cautious of giving up too much to end the decade-long war. Most international troops are scheduled to withdraw by 2014, making achieving a negotiated peace an urgent priority.

"The achievements we have gained in the last 10 years, we shouldn't let go of them," Mr Masood said.

Mr Masood is a prominent leader of the Afghan National Front opposition coalition and the brother of murdered Northern Alliance chief Ahmad Shah Masood, considered a national hero by anti-Taliban forces.

Ethnic Hazara leader Mohammad Muhaqiq said minority leaders should participate in any future talks. He said: "If the government is going to start a peace process, then we should also be in this process because we also represent part of the nation. If the peace process is not clear, then peace cannot be successful."