By AMIR SHAH and PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban will attend a meeting in France to talk about Afghanistan's future but will not discuss peace and reconciliation, the militant group's spokesman said Monday.
The meeting, organized by a French think tank on the outskirts of Paris, is not expected to produce results, but it will produce a rare face-to-face gathering of Afghanistan's major players. Only one such meeting, far less inclusive, has been held this year with Taliban participation. It was organized by a Japanese university in Kyoto six months ago.
Zabiullah Mujahid said two of the Taliban's representatives will attend next week's meeting to outline their policies. Representatives from Afghanistan's High Peace Council, political parties opposed to the Taliban, and the militant Islamist group Hezb-e-Islami also are expected to attend.
French Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Vincent Floreani said the intra-Afghan conference would take place this month under the auspices of the Foundation for Strategic Research. It will be closed to the media and will involve "all components of Afghan society," he said. He declined to specify the date or indicate the location, citing security concerns.
Peace talks with the Taliban remained stalled, but there are signs of increasing efforts to get them back on track. U.S.-backed talks broke down last March in a dispute over the release of five Taliban detainees held in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants the peace talks to be led by his government and the peace council, a body he set up to negotiate with the insurgency.
It was unclear who would represent the Afghan government, but an official who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to reporters said that Education Minister Farooq Wardak may attend along with one other official.
Pakistan is also a key player in the peace process, and its release of a number of Taliban prisoners earlier in the month was seen as a key step in its participation. The cooperation of Pakistan, which has long-standing ties to the Taliban, is seen as pivotal in restarting the talks. The United States and its allies are trying to get movement ahead of the Afghan presidential election in 2014, the year that most foreign combat troops are set to leave the country.
"Two people are going from the Taliban side. We are not giving the names now," Mujahid said. "We are not going to talk about the peace process. We will express our ideas and policy. We are not going to discuss peace. This gathering is not about peace."
Ghairat Baheer, who will attend and represent his father-in-law Hekmatyar, said Hezb-e-Islami was supporting the initiative by the French because it focused on a discussion among Afghans.
"It is a good forum for exchanging views and expressing oneself and understanding each other's point of view," Baheer said. "The intra-Afghan dialogue is the only solution. The Taliban have shown a willingness to participate."
Muhammad Mohaqeq, a member of the peace council and top leader of Afghan Shiites and the Hazara minority ethnic faction, said the peace process would be a topic for discussion at the meeting.
"There will be people from the government side, from Hezb-e-Islami and the Taliban," he said. "We are going to talk about the peace process and all sides will be there. We will also talk about the elections and the situation in Afghanistan."
Mohaqeq, a member of the National Front, which represents members of the former Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban before the U.S. invasion 11 years ago, said he and another two people from the group will attend. One of the two is Ahmad Zia Masood, the brother of the late Northern Alliance chief Ahmad Shah Masood, considered a national hero by anti-Taliban forces.
Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Paris and Kathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed.
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