Karzai offers talks with Taliban to end bloodshed

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday offered peace talks with a resurgent Taliban after the bloodiest year since the hardline Islamists were driven from power in 2001.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks before the fledgling parliament in Kabul January 21, 2007. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

More than 4,000 people, including about 170 foreign soldiers, died in fighting in 2006, which saw a dramatic jump in suicide bombings, and Taliban commanders have warned of a massive summer offensive this year.

Karzai made his offer while speaking at a religious gathering in Kabul on one of the holiest days of the Shia Islamic calendar, but he did not specifically name the Taliban.

“While we are fighting for our honor, we still open the door for talks and negotiations with our enemy who is after our annihilation and is shedding our blood,” he told the crowd at the main Shia religious compound in the capital.

Speaking later in Berlin, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said there was no point in negotiating with the Taliban, since they were only interested in harming Afghanistan and undermining efforts to build democracy.

Karzai said he prayed for guidance from those who plotted against Afghanistan, referring to neighboring Pakistan where the Taliban and their Islamic allies have sanctuaries.

Karzai two years ago offered amnesty to those Taliban he and others regard as moderate, but on Monday made no such distinction.

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No senior Taliban commander or leader has surrendered or joined the government as part of past efforts to bring them into the mainstream and senior rebel leaders have ridiculed such calls as a sign of weakness.

NATO has 32,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan, some of whom have engaged in driving Taliban fighters out of the south of the country since last August.

Interviewed on German television, Scheffer was asked if he believed there could be peace talks with the Taliban.

“I don’t think so, not when you’re dealing with people who have the goal of destroying the reconstruction and democracy,” he told n-tv television.

“You can’t negotiate with them. I can’t imagine that NATO would negotiate with people who kill children or teachers in school,” said Scheffer, who was in Berlin to attend a two-day conference on European defense policy.

The Taliban have vowed to drive out foreign troops and overthrow Karzai and his government.

The insurgents and their Islamic allies are mostly active in the southern and eastern areas bordering Pakistan. The Taliban, NATO and U.S. commanders say there will be bloody violence within months with the approach of spring as the snows thaw.