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Karzai told to talk with the Taliban

The British Government has suggested that the government of Hamid Karzai should talk to the Taliban leadership, the so-called "Quetta Shura", in an attempt to bring insurgents into the political process.

The initiative is a step up from previous calls for rank-and-file Taliban, who are not doctrinaire jihadists, to be offered amnesty, but the Foreign Office does not say that direct negotiations should be held with Mullah Omar, the former head of Afghanistan's Taliban regime, who is now directing the biggest of the insurgent groups.

The British Government is also pressing for former Taliban members to be removed from a United Nations blacklist. Those on the list cannot travel freely and can be arrested under an international licence. This is seen as a major hindrance to talks.

A leaked Foreign Office memo says: "We must weaken and divide the Taliban if we are to reduce the insurgency to a level that can be managed and contained by the Afghan security forces. This can be achieved by a combination of military pressure and clear signals that the option of an honourable exit from the fight exists."