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Afghanistan's Karzai says has spoken with insurgents Hizb-i-Islami

KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday he had met a delegation from Afghan insurgent group Hizb-i-Islami for peace talks, a sign that he wants to assert his authority over a nascent peace process.     

Weeks ago, the Taliban offered to open a political office in Qatar, a potential venue for possible peace talks with the United States and other countries.    

Karzai maintains Afghanistan should take the lead in talks, and wants to show he has the power to bring non-Taliban insurgents into the process.    

The move is likely to be unpopular with Afghan voters, but displays Karzai's determination to demonstrate his authority, and gain control over any peace process for Afghanistan.    

"Recently we had talks with delegations from the Hizb-i-Islami of Afghanistan led by His Excellency Engineer Gulbuddin Hekmatyar," Karzai told the Afghan parliament on the opening day of its winter session.    

Hizb-i-Islami is a radical Islamist militant group which shares many of the Taliban's anti-foreigner, anti-government aims, and has widespread national support.    

"In these talks we expressed our point of view in a brotherly and friendly manner. We hope that our talks continue and bring beneficial results," Karzai said.    

In the early 1990s, forces led by Hekmatyar, opposed to the government of then-president Burhanuddin Rabbani, took part in fighting in Kabul which is thought to have killed tens of thousands. Hekmatyar quit Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, and his whereabouts have been unclear since then.    

The United States' Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, is in the Afghan capital this weekend.    

 "The United States stands ready to assist in any way we can an Afghan-led reconciliation process to find a peaceful end to this conflict," Grossman said in a statement released by the U.S. embassy in Kabul.    

 "I look forward to calling on President Karzai and discussing next steps."  

 

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