MUNICH, Germany – Washington is not in "direct contact" with the Taliban as part of efforts after January's London conference on Afghanistan to re-integrate insurgents, US envoy Richard Holbrooke said Sunday.
"The press, since London, has been kind of obsessed with the idea that there are all sorts of secret talks going on with the Taliban. So I want to state very clearly that our nation is not involved in any direct contacts with the Taliban," Holbrooke said at an international security conference in Germany.
Washington and its allies agreed in London to support Afghan President Hamid Karzai's efforts to persuade insurgents not ideologically committed to the Taliban or Al-Qaeda to abandon fighting in favour of the prospect of jobs.
Holbrooke said that this would run "in parallel" to military efforts, stepped up with the sending of almost 40,000 more international troops to join the 110,000 already there, and the training of Afghan security forces.
"Every Pashtun family in the south either has relatives or friends who are fighting with, or associate with, the Taliban. That's just a matter of fact, that's just the situation," Holbrooke said at the conference in Munich.
"The majority of people fighting with the Taliban are not ideologically committed either to Al-Qaeda or (Taliban chief) Mullah Omar, and that is what the integration programme is all about."
He added: "The number one issue is that anyone who wants to reconcile, reintegrate or anything has to sever any ties, any involvement with Al-Qaeda. For the majority of the people fighting with the Taliban that is an easy decision. But for the leadership it may be difficult."
Reports after the London talks said that the outgoing UN special representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, had met with Taliban figures on January 8 at their request -- claims vehemently denied by the Taliban.
"Of course you saw that the UN senior representative said he had contacts. That's up to him, there have been other contacts, there is lots of track-two diplomacy," said Holbrooke, who is US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Karzai, also in Munich, said Afghans "with no ideological opposition" to the Afghan government had been driven into the arms of the Taliban because of their lack of prospects and would "return to normalcy" if given "incentives."
"This again means giving protection and a safe environment to those Taliban who are not part of Al-Qaeda, who are not part of any terrorist groups, who are accepting and respecting the Afghan constitution," Karzai said.
US President Barack Obama wants to begin handing over security responsibilities to homegrown forces this year so that US troops can begin coming home in mid-2011.
© AFP 2013