May 12, 2010 / 8:37 AM / 10 years ago

Rebel group rejects likely Afghan exile offer

KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan guerrilla group has turned down a draft peace proposal by President Hamid Karzai’s government offering insurgent leaders exile in third countries in an effort to end the nine-year-old war.

The Hezb-i-Islami (HIA) party led by a former premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, which runs a separate insurgency force from the Taliban against the government and NATO and U.S.-led forces, said the offer was “completely unacceptable and out of question”.

An official for the party and member of its team which held an initial round of direct peace talks with Karzai in March, said the group still insisted on setting a withdrawal timetable for foreign troops before the start of any parley.

“The only way out of this imbroglio is the complete and unconditional withdrawal of the foreign occupiers from the country with a reasonable timetable which is already offered by HIA’s leadership,” Qareeb Rahman Saeed said.

“Any other proposal other than this one, will be unreasonable and unjustifiable,” he wrote in an email late on Tuesday to Reuters when asked for a reaction on the proposed plan.

Hezb is mostly active in parts of the east and north of Afghanistan while the Taliban are strong mostly in the south.

The draft, distributed to some diplomats and seen by Reuters at the weekend, also envisages the Taliban cutting ties with al Qaeda and being taken off the U.N. sanctions list and joining the political mainstream as part of any peace accord.

The Taliban, which unlike Hezb repeatedly said in the past they will not engage in peace talks until all foreign forces are out, had no immediate reaction to the draft on Wednesday.

The draft pushes for the reintegration of foot insurgent combatants and job offers through cash aid of donor nations. Peace talks with insurgents will be a key issue that Karzai is due to discuss with U.S. President Barack Obama during his current visit to Washington this week.

JIRGA

The draft plan comes weeks before a grand council of Afghans, known as a “jirga”, that will meet in Kabul from May 29 to discuss how to make peace with the insurgents.

“The Jirga people should have given freedom to decide about the future of the country. If the installed government of Mr. Karzai wants to announce the Jirga decisions prior its gathering, then what will be the meaning of the Jirga,” he said.

“It will be a waste of time, a waste of money, and dishonor to the selected people of the Jirga,”

The government plan has not given more details on the asylum offer. But Saudi Arabia, which has in the past facilitated at least one round of talks between the Afghan government and some former Taliban officials, is seen as a possible place where the opposition leaders can get exile.

Washington, with the bulk of some 140,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, is cautious about peace talks, saying it is too early to expect a breakthrough, particularly as U.S. military operations gain momentum in the coming months.

Ousted from power in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban have made a comeback in recent years inflicting heavy loses on Western and Afghan forces, prompting some NATO nations to say why they need to fund the war or send their soldiers to battle zones.

Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Krittivas Mukherjee

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