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Karzai will talk with Taliban who want peace

AFGHAN President Hamid Karzai said yesterday he wants new rules governing the conduct of United States-led forces in Afghanistan and would be willing to talk with Taliban leaders who publicly renounce violence and endorse peace.

But Karzai, acknowledging shaky relations with his international partners in the war on terror, said he was not prepared at this time to discuss the key Taliban demand - a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops.

Karzai said the presence of US and international forces was in the Afghan national interest but should be "based on a new contract" that would minimize civilian casualties, limit searches of private homes and restrict detaining Afghans indefinitely without charge.

He also said he wants the US-run prison at Bagram Air Base, where about 600 Afghans are held, re-evaluated and inmates released unless there is evidence linking them to terrorist affiliation. He said arrests are turning ordinary Afghans against US and NATO forces.

Karzai has promised to pursue those demands for changes in the relationship with foreign forces if he wins a second term in the August 20 presidential election.

He is considered the leading contender in the 39-candidate field, though he would be forced into a runoff if he fails to win a majority of votes in the first round.

"The Afghan people still want a fundamentally strong relation with the United States," Karzai said. "The Afghan people want a strategic partnership with America" based on fighting Islamic extremism.

But he added that the partnership must ensure "that the partners are not losing their lives, their property, their dignity as a consequence of that partnership."

The 91,000 international troops based in Afghanistan include about 65,000 under NATO's International Security Assistance Force. The rest are part of a US-led coalition involved in counterterrorism and training Afghan forces. Both groups operate under different rules, which are kept secret for operational security reasons.

But it is widely assumed the US-led counter-terror command enjoys broader powers to search homes and detain people indefinitely if they are suspected of posing a security threat.

Last month, the new US and NATO commander, General Stanley McChrystal, issued new orders saying troops may attack insurgents hiding in Afghan houses only if international forces are in imminent danger. The measures were put into effect to quell a storm of criticism from Karzai's government about civilian casualties, which help fuel the Taliban insurgency.


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