Afghans, Western backers in contact with Taliban: Karzai

LONDON Wed Mar 2, 2011 7:41pm EST

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LONDON (Reuters) - The Afghan government and its Western backers are in contact with Taliban insurgents but it could take one to three years to reach a resolution, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday.

In an interview with Britain's Channel 4 News, he also advised Western nations not to intervene militarily in Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi faces a revolt against his 41-year rule.

Karzai said his government was in direct conversation with some members of the Taliban, who are waging an increasingly bloody insurgency in Afghanistan.

"The contacts are going on. The contacts don't get to a fixed address unfortunately, because that address is not there," he said, speaking during a visit to Britain where he held talks with Prime Minister David Cameron.

Karzai said contacts were being increasingly channeled through the High Peace Council, set up last year to seek a negotiated end to decades of violence.

"At the same time there are contacts by our international partners," he said.

Asked if the United States and Britain were talking to the same people the Afghan government was talking to, Karzai said: "There are contacts, but they will not be with the same people."

He said negotiations were just beginning although he hoped they would reach an end point soon.

Asked to be more precise, he said: "Unfortunately it doesn't mean weeks. I wish it did. It doesn't mean months. It probably will be one or two or three years."

Violence across Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 and the insurgency has grown in the past year despite the presence of about 150,000 foreign troops.

The New Yorker magazine reported this month that the United States had entered direct talks with leaders of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but contacts were exploratory and not yet a peace negotiation.

Advising against Western military intervention in Libya, Karzai said it would stir "nationalistic fervor" among Libyans and cause more suffering for all concerned.

Admitting that there was "friction" with his Western allies over strategy in Afghanistan, Karzai said he had told his allies the military surge should be scaled back to permit negotiations.

"The military is less inclined to accept it (this argument). The political side, the civilian side, is more inclined to it," he said.

Karzai said the Western media had greatly exaggerated the extent of corruption in Afghanistan.

A scandal at Afghanistan's biggest private bank, Kabulbank, which has lost hundreds of millions of dollars, could jeopardize Western aid to Afghanistan.

"The Kabulbank is a corrupt case, sure, but so are the banks in the UK, so are the banks in America," Karzai said.

Allegations about his half brother, were "totally wrong, absolutely wrong, politically motivated," he said. Ahmad Wali Karzai, a leader in Kandahar province, has been accused of amassing a fortune from drugs, intimidating rivals and of having links with the CIA, charges he denies.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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