Afghan Peace Talks Offer

Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud says he is ready to talk peace with the Taleban

Afghan Peace Talks Offer

Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud says he is ready to talk peace with the Taleban

Ahmed Shah Massoud, Afghan vice-president and leader of the Northern

Alliance, has offered to begin peace talks with the Taleban and

called for the creation of a joint interim government in the war-torn

country ahead of UN sponsored elections.

Massoud, known as the "Pandjir Lion", was speaking in Dushanbe

last week following a visit to France where he met EU leaders and

addressed the European parliament in Strasbourg. "In spite of existing problems, we are always ready to sit around the negotiating table with the Taleban," Massoud said.

He offered to participate in an interim government for up to one year, by which time he said elections should be held to allow the Afghan people to make their own

choice of government. He said this was the only way to end the country's prolonged conflict.

Massoud insisted any elections would need to be held under the auspices of

the United Nations and the "Six Plus Two" member countries - Afghanistan and

its neighbours Iran, Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, together with the

United States and Russia.

Massoud said his talks in France had focused particularly on the need to

bring pressure to bear on Pakistan, which he blamed for providing support for

the Taleban.

"Pakistan is the main reason for the conflict in Afghanistan. I have said

many times that it is Pakistan, its army and special forces who are behind the Afghan conflict," he said.

Massoud accused Islamabad of creating an Afghan government subservient to Pakistani interests, "I have already said many times, that we will never become the slaves of Pakistan. We could become good friends with Pakistan, but this is only

possible if its leadership changes its attitude towards the Afghan conflict

and stops supporting the Taleban."

Pakistan, meanwhile, furiously denies Northern Alliance accusations. A foreign ministry spokesman in Islamabad said Massoud had

no proof to support his claims and insisted the Pakistan government was

abiding by UN sanctions and is not interfering in the Afghan conflict.

During his meetings in Paris and Strasbourg, Massoud also pressed European

countries to provide aid to the Afghan people and step up their efforts to end the war.

The Northern Alliance leader criticised UN activities in Afghanistan, "The UN does not properly fulfil its obligations for provision of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people because high-ranking positions in the organisation are occupied by Pakistanis, which is slowing the process down."

The Taleban criticised France's decision to invite Massoud. Kabul said

European countries would do better to listen to all sides in the Afghan

conflict than give preference to the Northern Alliance.

Massoud's high-profile arrival in Dushanbe - a marked change from previous

low-key visits - suggests the Northern Alliance leader secured strong

backing on his trip to Europe.

Whereas his numerous earlier visits to Tajikistan have been made incognito, this time the "Pandjir Lion" was welcomed by hundreds of cheering Afghan exiles at Dushanbe airport.

His news conference the following day was held in a Tajik government building and was attended by a large number of Afghan intellectuals now living in Dushanbe.

At the conference, Massoud claimed that forces opposed to the Taleban were

unifying and that the well-known Afghan field

commander Abdulrashid Dustum, leader of a large group of Afghan ethnic

Uzbeks, could soon join forces against the Taleban.

Dustum, a supporter of the anti-Taleban coalition, fled to Turkey three

years ago, but recently there's been mounting speculation of his imminent return to Afghanistan.

Massoud denied his organisation had anything to do with

the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU - a movement blamed for several

armed incursions into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2000. He claimed the IMU was fighting alongside the Taleban and offered to produce

several captives to prove this.

Massoud said he was pleased with Northern Alliance relations with Russia and

thanked Moscow for its active participation in the resolution of the Afghan

conflict. He was less warm towards Turkmenistan, which he warned against

furthering contact with the Taleban.

"Turkmenistan will encounter the true face of the Taleban and their essence

before too long," he said.

Russian emergencies minister Sergei Shoigu was in Tajikistan at the same

time as Massoud, but the Northern Alliance leader denied meeting the Moscow


Unofficial sources claimed otherwise and said the two probably

discussed Russian aid to the thousands of Afghan refugees concentrated along

the Tajik-Afghan frontier.

Vladimir Davlatov is a regular IWPR contributor

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