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Karzai’s opponents begin own talks with militant groups

KABUL — Afghan opposition parties, taking advantage of the government’s lack of progress in making peace with the Taliban, have opened their own channel to militant groups in hopes of putting their imprint on a deal to end 11 years of war and position themselves for next year’s elections.

Taliban and opposition leaders confirmed that the parties opposed to President Hamid Karzai have been talking since the beginning of the year to the Taliban as well as the militant group headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a US-declared terrorist.

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They are trying to find a political resolution to the Afghan war ahead of two key events in 2014 — the presidential race that will determine Karzai’s successor and the final stage of withdrawal of international combat troops from the country.

The Afghan constitution bans Karzai from running for a third term, and there are fears that the troop withdrawal plus a new leader in the palace could usher in a new era of instability in Afghanistan.

‘‘We want a solution for Afghanistan . . . but every step should be a soft one,’’ said Hamid Gailani, a founding member of the united opposition. ‘‘We have to start somewhere.’’

Two senior Taliban officials indicated that the group is willing to pursue talks to move the political track forward. One sign of this was that they said they were contemplating replacing their top negotiator because he isn’t getting the desired results.

The Taliban want to talk with the United States, but they broke off formal discussions with the Americans last year. The Taliban have steadfastly rejected negotiations with the Karzai government, which they view as a puppet of foreign powers.

Taliban interlocutors have had back-channel discussions with representatives from various countries. A senior US official said the Taliban are talking to representatives of more than 30 countries and indirectly with the United States.

Still, a lack of transparency surrounding the discussions through various channels makes it difficult to know exactly who’s talking with whom.

Karzai, who misses no chance to champion his nation’s sovereignty over foreign powers, demands that any talks be led by his government. Early last year, he said that his administration, the United States, and the Taliban had held three-way talks aimed at moving toward a political settlement of the war.

The United States and the Taliban, however, deny that such talks took place.

Hekmatyar’s Islamist militant group, meanwhile, has held talks with the Karzai government and the United States.

As the opposition pursues peace with the Taliban, Karzai has launched a new round of verbal attacks on his supposed ally, the United States, which have infuriated some in Washington and confused some of his senior advisers.

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