Afghan peace negotiator sees progress in talks with Taliban
KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan government's efforts to encourage Taliban insurgents to enter peace talks are making progress despite apparent deadlock, a senior government negotiator said on Sunday.
Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, who was wounded in a Taliban attack a year ago, suggested there was behind-the-scenes activity to start a peace process in Afghanistan.
"When politicians are on the stage, they will be always saying something different than what they are discussing in private," he said.
"There (is) progress," he said, without giving details.
Stanekzai was badly hurt in an explosion detonated by a Taliban suicide bomber in September last year that killed Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president and head of the High Peace Council, set up by President Hamid Karzai to liaise with insurgents.
Stanekzai, who suffered injuries to his feet and a lung and lost his hearing on one side in the attack, has returned to work as a senior advisor to Karzai and head of the peace council's secretariat.
With most foreign combat troops due to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a political settlement between the Afghan government and insurgents is widely seen as a way of bringing stability to the country.
Stanekzai said he was optimistic about the prospects for a political settlement but said it was hard to say whether one could be reached before the end of 2014.
"It is very difficult to set a timeline. Sometimes maybe a consensus can be reached when people are under the pressure of time ... that pressure sometimes brings people together," he said, speaking to a group of foreign reporters visiting Afghanistan on a media tour organized by NATO.
Talks on a political settlement have so far failed to make much headway, while the Taliban said in March they were suspending nascent peace talks with the United States, blaming "shaky, erratic and vague" U.S. statements.
Contacts between the Taliban and the Afghan government have continued, according to Afghan government sources.
Stanekzai also suggested there would be no need to hold separate talks from the Taliban with the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based group accused of high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, and designated a terrorist organization by the United States last month. "They are counting themselves as a part of the Taliban," he said.
(Editing by Myra MacDonald)