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Peace talks spawn violent Taliban splinter groups

By Kathy Gannon

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, July 7 2012 11:00 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this July 8, 2009 file photo, U.S. Marines from the 2nd MEB, 1st Battalion 5th Marines sleep in their fighting holes inside a compound where they stayed for the night, in the Nawa district of Afghanistan's Helmand province. As the United States and its allies try to negotiate a peace settlement with the Taliban before all combat troops leave Afghanistan in 2014, a new obstacle has arisen: Insurgent splinter groups opposed to the deal are emerging, complicating U.S. hopes of leaving behind a stable country.

David Guttenfelder, File, Associated Press

ISLAMABAD — As the United States and its allies try to negotiate a peace settlement with the Taliban before all combat troops leave Afghanistan in 2014, a new obstacle has arisen: Insurgent splinter groups opposed to the deal are emerging, complicating U.S. hopes of leaving behind a stable country.

These splinter groups have demonstrated their strength recently, with two brazen shootings — one of a high-ranking Taliban leader and the other of a senior member of the Afghan government's High Peace Council.

That new violence has added to the difficulty of striking a deal with the Taliban as the clock continues to wind down with only 2 1/2 years to go before the planned withdrawal. Failure to figure out all these new players in Afghanistan's varied ethnic and political groups threatens to plunge the country into more civil strife.

"I am very pessimistic," said Moeed Yusuf of the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington.

He warns that Afghanistan seems poised to repeat the devastation of the early 1990s after the Soviet withdrawal. At that time, rival rebel factions previously united against the Soviets turned their guns on each other, killing tens of thousands of civilians and paving the way for the Taliban takeover.

As more decision-makers emerge on the scene, it is becoming more difficult to secure a peace deal that can withstand the test of time, Yusuf said.

"Whatever peace you come up with, I believe it is not sustainable, and I believe we are probably going to see a repeat of the 1990s, where you go for a few years and then it all starts to fall apart," he said.

The U.S. began the clandestine talks with the Taliban last year, aided by Germany and secretly held in Qatar. A senior U.S. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the goal for Marc Grossman, Washington's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was straightforward: Get an Afghan peace deal.

That goal has run into a series of problems.

The Taliban broke off talks earlier this year, saying the U.S. reneged on a promise to release Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. To get the Taliban back to the table, the U.S. last weekend said it was mulling a proposal to transfer some Guantanamo Bay inmates to a prison in Afghanistan. But Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed told The Associated Press that the group wants the prisoners freed unconditionally before resuming talks.

In the last six months, the Taliban has had increasingly violent clashes with a militant Islamist group called Hezb-e-Islami, led by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. That fighting escalated to all-out war in some parts of Afghanistan.

Hekmatyar is a former American ally who is now on Washington's wanted list. The Taliban worry that Hekmatyar's group, which is close to the government of President Hamid Karzai and has held parallel talks with the Americans, will make its own peace deal.

The fissures in the Taliban movement have been further widened by the emergence of the splinter groups opposed to the peace talks.

Here is a look at some of those groups:

— The Jihadi Shura of Mujahedeen for Unity and Understanding. This previously unheard-of group has lashed out at Taliban talks with the United States, urged more war and criticized battlefield skirmishes between the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

Although the group's size is unknown, its views were put forth in a communique that was circulated in Pakistan's tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan, suggesting a wide reach among Afghans living near the frontier.

"We consider talks in the presence of the invading crusaders as a conspiracy in the way of the establishment of a real Islamic system, for which millions of sincere youth have embraced martyrdom," said the communique, a copy of which was acquired by the AP.

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