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World

Militant faction breaks off talks with US, Afghans

Says informal discussions will continue

KABUL — A major Afghan militant group is following in the Taliban’s footsteps by suspending talks with the United States and the Kabul government, another setback to efforts toward a peaceful resolution to the decadelong war.

The insurgent faction Hezb-i-Islami was abandoning talks because they had produced nothing “practical,’’ said the group’s European representative, Qaribur Rahman Saeed. Earlier this month, the Taliban announced it was breaking off dialogue with the United States.

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Part of the US-led coalition’s exit plan is to gradually transfer security responsibility to Afghan forces. Another tack is to pull the Taliban and other militant factions into political discussions with the Afghan government.

Hizb-i-Islami is a radical Islamist militia that controls territory in Afghanistan’s northeast and launches attacks against US forces from Pakistan. Its leader, powerful warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is a former Afghan prime minister and onetime US ally who is now listed as a terrorist by Washington.

The United States and Afghan governments know that in addition to getting the blessing of Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar, any peace deal would have to be supported by Hekmatyar, who has thousands of fighters and followers primarily in the north and east. Mullah Omar is a bitter rival of Hekmatyar even though both are fighting international troops.

Saeed said the first official Hizb-i-Islami delegation held talks with the Afghan government in February 2010 and presented a 15-point peace plan. Then, in December 2011, at the request of the United States, a Hizb-i-Islami delegation went to Kabul and met with American, Afghan, NATO, and military coalition officials and had a meeting with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Saeed said.

“Since both of you [US and Kabul authorities] don’t have any practical and acceptable approach for the solution of the crisis, the negotiation is going to be suspended,’’ Hekmatyar said in a statement that Saeed released.

Saeed said, however, that while official talks have been suspended, informal discussion will continue through channels in the United States and Europe.

Karzai said in January that he had personally held peace talks with Hizb-i-Islami that he hoped would continue and be fruitful.

The Taliban said they were suspending talks with the United States. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid accused the United States of failing to follow through on its promises.

Mujahid said they had agreed to discuss two issues only with the Americans: the establishment of the militant group’s political office in Qatar and a prisoner exchange. The Taliban are seeking the release of five top Taliban leaders from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

The Taliban said the Americans initially agreed to take practical steps on these issues, but then came up with new conditions for the talks.

The White House has said that the United States continues to support an Afghan-led process toward reconciliation.

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