*** The Taliban have frequently shown themselves to have no respect for legitimate and respected scholars having killed many of them already. Women and children are of course, business as usual thanks to indiscriminate bombings of public places which in their twisted minds is called Jihad. Another 10 years - another superpower, the cycle continues... MS ***
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan tribal leaders and other notables agreed at a peace meeting Thursday that an opening had to be made to Taliban insurgents because neither foreign forces nor the Afghan army had been able to ensure security, the deputy head of the conference said.
Qiyamuddin Kashaf said nearly 1,600 delegates gathered for a traditional jirga to discuss President Hamid Karzai's peace proposals agreed that the jirga (gathering) was their last chance to bring peace.
"The most important point (among the suggestions) was that this will be our last jirga and if we cannot open the window for peace then we cannot go to the main gate."
The Taliban insurgency is at its most intense since their overthrow in 2001 by U.S.-led coalition forces and they have carried out a series of high profile attacks around the country despite thousands of additional troops deployed by the United States to help stabilize the country.
Wednesday, the Taliban fired rockets and engaged in gunfire with security forces as Afghan President Hamid Karzai launched the peace jirga in the west of the capital. None of the delegates were wounded but the attack showed their ability to strike at a time when security is at the highest levels.
"All agreed that our problem has reached the stage by which we can definitely say that nor the foreign forces and neither our national troops are able to bring peace and security to Afghanistan," said Kashaf, who is also the a member of the ulema council, made up of the country's top religious scholars.
With war escalating more than nine years after the fall of the Taliban despite the presence of some 140,000 Western troops and rising casualties among them, several NATO countries have been hesitant to send soldiers to the battle zones.
The U.S. is also planning to begin scaling down its presence from the middle of next year and several alliance nations have said they will not extend their mission.
Hundreds of delegates reflecting Afghan tribes, politics and geography, deliberated over Karzai's peace proposals in 28 small groups set up to forge a consensus.
They will report back to jirga chairman Burhanuddin Rabani, who is a former president, for adoption of a resolution at the close of the conference Friday.
The peace plan consists of luring Taliban foot soldiers back to the mainstream with cash and job incentives while seeking reconciliation with senior figures by offering them asylum in a Muslim country and striking their names off a UN blacklist.
Several delegates said the authorities must reach out to the top figures in the insurgency rather than focus on low level fighters.
"The removal of Taliban leaders' names from the lists, release of prisoners can lead to creating trust in the negotiators and also ease hostility between the warring sides," said Mohammad Masood Akhundzada, a shrine custodian from the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
TALIBAN REJECT TALKS
The Taliban have so far scoffed at the idea of talks saying all foreign forces must first leave the country. They have instead announced a spring offensive against the U.S.-led NATO forces and stepped up attacks.
U.S-led NATO forces are expected to launch an operation against them in their spiritual capital of Kandahar in the next few weeks that some believe may force them to reconsider their opposition to talks.
"The jirga is the beginning of the process, not the end of the process. This is a process where all Afghans should be involved because they have suffered for a long time ... because of the cycle of violence," said Masoon Stanakzai, a top adviser to Karzai.
Hundreds of police and security forces have been deployed on the streets surrounding the campus where the conference is taking place and in the hillsides overlooking the tent.