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April 30, 2017

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Taliban 'open' to cease-fire, US presence to 2024: think tank

LONDON -- The Taliban are open to a general cease-fire as well as a political agreement which could lead to a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan up until 2024, a new report by a British think tank said Monday.

But the insurgent group, led by Mullah Omar, will not negotiate with President Hamid Karzai or his administration, which it sees as corrupt and weak, the briefing paper by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) says.

The report, titled "Taliban Perspectives on Reconciliation," presents interviews with four senior Taliban representatives about their approach to reconciliation.

The paper claims to reveal an emerging, pragmatic consensus among the Taliban leadership, who are willing to take part in peace negotiations in exchange for political leverage after 2014.

NATO has about 130,000 soldiers fighting a decade-long insurgency by the Taliban, but they are due to pull out in 2014 and now work increasingly with the Afghans they are training to take over.

The report says the Quetta Shura Taliban, a council of Taliban leaders headed by Omar, will not accept the interpretation of the Afghan constitution in its current form since this would be akin to surrender.

But Taliban representatives did welcome the prospect of a U.S. military stabilization force operating in Afghanistan up to 2024 out of the five primary military bases — Kandahar, Herat, Jalalabad, Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul.

This, however, was only as long as the U.S. presence contributed to Afghan security and did not constrain Afghan independence and Islamic jurisprudence, the report said.

The paper also warned any American attacks against neighbors — such as Iran and Pakistan — launched from Afghan bases would not be tolerated since it would impact on national security and invite "trouble."

The report's authors met in July with one former Taliban minister, one ex-Taliban deputy minister and founding member of the Taliban, one senior ex-mujahideen commander and lead negotiator and one Afghan mediator who had negotiated with the Taliban.

The paper was written by Anatol Lieven, Theo Farrell and Rudra Chaudhuri from the Department of War Studies at King's College London, together with Michael Semple from Harvard University's Carr Center on Human Rights.

The paper also found that the Taliban leadership and "base" deeply regretted their past association with al-Qaida, so much that once a cease-fire or political agreement were decided they would obey a command to completely renounce al-Qaida, as long as this call came from Omar.

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