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Karzai offers Taliban leader security at peace talks

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai offered Sunday to provide security for the Taliban's reclusive leader if he agrees to enter peace talks, and said the United States and other Western nations could leave the country or oust him if they disagree.

Karzai's comments come as international political and military leaders are increasingly mulling whether negotiating with the Taliban is necessary as the insurgency gains sway in large areas of Afghanistan.

Karzai has long supported drawing the Islamist militia into the political mainstream on the condition that it accept the country's constitution.

"If I hear from (Mullah Omar) that he is willing to come to Afghanistan or to negotiate for peace and for the well-being of the Afghans so that our children are not killed anymore, I as a president of Afghanistan will go to any length to provide protection," Karzai said in Kabul.

"If I say I want protection for Mullah Omar, the international community has two choices, remove me or leave if they disagree," he said. "But we are not in that stage yet."

Omar, the one-eyed leader of the Afghan Taliban, headed the government that hosted al-Qaida and was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Since then, he has been in hiding but is believed to be running the insurgency.

Previously, Karzai has said that Omar lives in neighboring Pakistan, an allegation dismissed by Pakistani officials.

Seven years after the invasion, violence has reached record levels, with insurgent attacks up by 30 percent compared with 2007. The Taliban are present in large parts of Afghanistan's south and east and are increasingly encroaching on Kabul, the capital.

In September, Taliban members met with Afghan and Pakistani officials during a dinner hosted by Saudi Arabia's king, but there were no concrete results from the meeting.

Omar has not directly responded to these calls, but spokesmen associated with the Taliban have previously said their participation in any talks depends on the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops from the country.

Karzai dismissed that, saying foreign troops are necessary for Afghanistan's security.

Also Sunday, container trucks and oil tankers bound for U.S and NATO troops in Afghanistan suspended deliveries after militant attacks prompted Pakistan to block a major supply line, highlighting the vulnerability of the mountain passage.

The ban in northwest Pakistan, confirmed on Sunday, was intended to allow for a review of security in the famed Khyber Pass. The convoys currently have little to no security detail as they travel to Afghanistan with vital food, fuel and other goods.

The suspension could be lifted as early as today with new procedures in place, said Bakhtiar Khan, a No. 2 government representative in the area.

Also, the U.S. military reported that 38 insurgents were killed during a clash with coalition troops in southern Helmand province, and suicide car bombers struck a NATO convoy in the northern Baghlan province, killing one civilian, and a U.S. convoy in western Herat province, officials said.

Karzai offers Taliban leader security at peace talks 11/16/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 4:45pm]
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