Afghan Taliban members seek guarantees for peace talks

Suspected Taliban members under arrest near Herat Image copyright AP
Image caption The issue of engaging the Taliban is controversial and sensitive

Taliban commanders in Afghanistan have told the BBC that they are willing to explore peace talks.

They say they will do so if they can have more solid guarantees about their own future and safety.

The Afghan government and its foreign allies say they are making contact with members of the Taliban - but no formal talks are under way.

In public, the Taliban have repeatedly rejected talks, saying there can be no progress until foreign troops leave.

But in what appears to be a significant new development, more than a dozen senior and mid-level Taliban commanders have told the BBC that they are interested in a peaceful settlement.

''If I am sure that our conditions will be met and we'll have dignity and respect, then there will be no excuse to fight," a Taliban commander who wanted to remain anonymous said.

''But at the moment we cannot trust the Afghan government and Americans. They are not sincere in what they say''.

Many commanders echoed these views, complaining they are victims of a plot to divide and weaken them.

One of the main issues is a lack of faith in promises of security and protection.

'Constant danger'

A Taliban commander from Nooristan, Mullah Malang, is opposed to talks and accuses US and Afghan security officials of breaking amnesty agreements.

Image caption More trusted is needed if any talks make progress

"We haven't talked to anyone and we'll never talk," he said.

"The Afghan government brings in fake Taliban and say they have surrendered. Americans have also made promises with many people that in exchange for reintegration, they will do this and that for the Taliban.

"But when they surrender, they are arrested and then taken to Bagram or Guantanamo [prisons]."

Afghan officials acknowledge that mistakes have been made by Afghan and foreign security forces. They say that they want to change this.

''There are cases of officials intimidating former Taliban members who were not fighting, but we want to make sure that this won't happen again,'' said High Peace Council head Burhanuddin Rabbani.

''We want to focus on common points between the Afghan government and the Taliban and want to give them a respectful life and a dignified exit.''

The government and Nato say contacts have been made with the Taliban but no formal peace talks are yet under way.

The Taliban leaders interviewed by the BBC showed an interest in having a political office in a third country where they will be able to negotiate from a neutral place.

But there are concerns that a new generation of Taliban - or "neo Taliban" - which is considered more radical and less prone to reconciliation is becoming more powerful.  

The role and co-operation of Pakistan, where many Taliban leaders are believed to be living, is considered very important. 

Many senior Taliban feel they are caught between a rock and a hard place. They can not live peacefully in Afghanistan and they are under pressure in Pakistan too. 

One former Taliban commander from Kandahar who said he had entered into an amnesty deal with the government - but was now in constant danger.

"First of all, they promised us that they would give us protection," he said.

"We were also told they would give us a house and find a job for us to feed our families.

"All these promises were not fulfilled. We have not been given anything. They just gave us around $50 and that was it."

The commander said that he had been repeatedly threatened by former Taliban colleagues demanding to know why did he left them.

"We live in constant danger," he said. "Security officials intimidate us and that's why many have rejoined the Taliban."

The whole issue of engaging with the Taliban is proving highly controversial and highly sensitive.

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