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Afghan peace body says aim is not to defeat Taliban

AFGHAN PEACE BODY SAYS AIM IS NOT TO DEFEAT TALIBAN

Afghanistan's High Peace Council has announced it is now pursuing a new plan to reach a peace accord with the Taliban that would not aim to defeat the armed group.

The council is a government-backed body that was formed in September 2010 when former President Hamid Karzai was at the helm.

Karim Khalili, the council's current chairman and former vice president during Karzai's reign, held the body's first meeting on Monday after a structural revamp last month.

At the meeting, Khalili said the council -- under an initiative backed by the international community -- aims to launch an intensive consultation campaign with political parties, tribal leaders and civil society representatives to reach an ultimate consensus to end the conflict in Afghanistan.

"We do not see peace as a defeat; our strategy does not aim to defeat the Taliban. We believe in studying the demands and views of the Taliban," he said.

"Peace also does not mean giving away meaningless privileges, undermining the law and giving away all achievements," he said.

The council has long been seen as symbolic body with no or little clout either over the government or the Taliban. However, its members have come under attack by the armed group in the past; the body's first chairman and former Afghan President, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was killed in a suicide bomb attack at his home in the capital Kabul on Sept. 20, 2011.

'MEDIATING FOR PEACE'
Dr. Mohammad Nizam, a Kabul-based writer and political analyst, viewed the change of tone in the council's current leadership as significant.

"The Taliban verbally and practically rejected all calls for peace by launching yet another annual spring offensives in April this year.

"And, on the other end the Afghan government and its international partners are equally prepared to confront them [Taliban] militarily, which means a standstill.

"I personally believe the peace council [HPC] and senior figures such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar [former Mujahedeen leader who returned to Afghanistan after a landmark peace deal with the government in September last year] can be very effective in mediating for peace," Nizam told Anadolu Agency.

The Taliban have not yet commented on the council's recent remarks as their armed rebellion lingers to 17th year. The ragging violence has claimed thousands of lives since the Taliban regime was toppled by the U.S. in 2001.

A day earlier, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani warned the Taliban that time was not on their side.

"We have put our political capital and our lives on the line to seek peace, but our extended hand has not been shaken yet. And our request for ensuring the neutrality of state-to-state relations with Pakistan is yet to be realized.

"We are determined to seek peace, but the international community must understand that tolerance of our people for these senseless destructions is coming to an end," Ghani told a meeting at the Presidential Palace on Sunday that was attended by representatives of the international diplomatic and aid community.

Afghan officials believe Pakistan still holds control over the Taliban, and if Islamabad wishes it can bring the Taliban to the negotiation table.

"They [Taliban] either have to embrace genuine peace and reconciliation, or be ready to be classified by the world community as a terrorist organization," the president added.

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