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Switzerland organised secret Afghan talks

Fighters loyal to Massood: peace efforts have failed to bring the two sides any closer

(Keystone)

The Swiss government organised secret talks between the rival factions in Afghanistan's civil war, officials confirmed on Wednesday.

Several meetings were held in Switzerland last year and at the beginning of this year, but broke off after failing to make progress.

Andrei Motyl, a Swiss official who was involved in organising the meetings, said the talks involved senior representatives of the ruling Islamic Taleban movement and of the main opposition leader, Ahmad Shah Massood.

"The participants were of various levels," he told swissinfo, "but normally we insisted on having people very close to the leadership. So we practically always had ministers or vice-ministers from both sides."

The foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, said last year the Afghan factions had been invited to Switzerland to examine the working of democratic institutions. But it is the first time officials have said the invitation was taken up.

While in Switzerland, the rivals visited museums, hospitals and cantonal governments together.

Motyl said the aim was "to find out if the two sides, which have been fighting now for several years, still might have some common denominator or interests."

However, the Afghan confidence-building measures foundered at the beginning of this year. The French-language daily, Le Temps, said Massood's side feared the talks would give the Taleban a measure of international recognition.

Motyl said the two sides were unable to find any common ground.

"We have not made big steps ahead towards peace, and the reason is simply that both sides are so far apart. Their positions are so incompatible that any tentative from outside is very difficult."

But Motyl denied the talks were a failure, describing the fact that the meetings were held at all as a step forward. He said the two sides had got to know each other, and that contacts were continuing on public health issues.

He said Berne's invitation to host talks in Switzerland was still on the table, if the two sides ever wanted to take it up.

"Given the situation in the field, where the Taleban have now taken 90 per cent of the country, the conditions for negotiations are becoming more and more difficult. But the offer remains."

by Malcolm Shearmur


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