Tribal leaders say Omar's men will make deal to leave Kandahar

War on Terrorism: Kandahar
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The Independent Online

Tribal leaders did not appear to lend much credibility to the Taliban's vows to fight to the death on Wednesday, insisting they would eventually reach a peace deal.

As Mullah Mohammed Omar's people spoke of a defiant stand, the Taliban's foothold in southern Afghanistan's Pashtun tribal belt was said to be shrinking beneath their feet.

Local chiefs said they had been urging the Taliban to surrender their stronghold of Kandahar. The Popalzai tribal nobleman Hamid Karzai, a supporter of the former kingZahir Shah, said some tribes in the western province of Helmand had rebelled, while almost all of central Oruzgan province was in opposition hands. "More districts have fallen to popular uprisings in Helmand and almost all the districts in Oruzgan have gone," Mr Karzai said.

Whatever the signs of defiance, Pashtun leaders said tribal allegiance is likely to win through, and a deal will be struck between opposition and Taliban Pashtun commanders.

Tribal chiefs said negotiations were continuing with Taliban commanders in Kandahar for a peaceful surrender of the ancient walled city. The talks, aimed at winning agreement for the establishment of a loya jirga, or grand council, to be presided over by Zahir Shah, have not resulted in any agreements.

They insisted that they wanted to end the stand-off in Kandahar – an area which has changed hands countless times and seen constant feuds since the days of Alexander the Great – without further blood shed.

"The result [of negotiations] is not clear right now," said Abdul Khaliq, a member of the influential Noorsai clan. "He [Mullah Omar] is still in charge."

Yet news emerging from Kandahar offered conflicting reports. Travellers insisted the Taliban had imposed a curfew and beefed up positions at Spin Boldak. Some say their forces are moving towards Arghastan, where the former Kandahar mujahedin commander Gul Agha is operating with a small army of 1,000 anti-Taliban fighters.

But Mohammed Yusaf Pashtun, a spokesman for Gul Agha, said: "Everybody knows the morale of the Taliban has broken down."

Stories of Taliban military manoeuvres seem to back up reports that Mullah Omar remains determined to regroup. The Baluchistan Times newspaper of Quetta reported that he had named Mullah Akhtar Usmani, the military commander of five southern provinces, as his successor should he die. But even in his sleep it seems he remains determined to fight to his last breath. He has, it was claimed, had a prophetic dream in which he ruled Kandahar for as long as he lived.