KABUL (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai unveiled an ambitious Western-funded plan Friday to offer money and jobs to tempt Taliban fighters to lay down their arms in an effort to quell a crippling insurgency.
His comments to the BBC came as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates described the Taliban as part of Afghanistans political fabric, but said any future role would depend on insurgents laying down their weapons.
We know as the Afghan people we must have peace at any cost, Karzai said in the television interview aired Friday ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan in London next week, where he will present the plan.
Those that we approach to return will be provided with the abilities to work, to find jobs, to have protection, to resettle in their own communities.
Taliban supporters, who were members of Al-Qaeda or other terror groups, would not be accepted in the scheme, Karzai added.
The Taliban leadership have repeatedly rebuffed peace talks in the past, and on Friday a spokesman for the militia, Zabihullah Mujahid, reiterated that they would not negotiate with Karzais government.
Our only and main goal is the freedom and independence of our country.
We cannot be bought by money and bounties.
The Taliban will not sell themselves off for cash, Mujahid said, reacting to Karzais comments.
We insist on our previous stance that we will not negotiate with this government.
Any negotiation now would mean accepting being a slave of America.
Our goal is enforcing an Islamic government and withdrawal of foreign forces.
A spokesman for Warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said he is open to peace talks with the Afghan government and US negotiators but on the condition that all foreign troops leave Afghanistan.
Hekmatyar served as prime minister briefly during the 1992-1996 civil war, but has become one of the top Mujahideen leaders opposing the Afghan government, claiming attacks on foreign troops and operating across the north and east.
Waliullah, spokesman for Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan - the group that Hekmatyar commands - told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location that the warlord was open to talks with all those concerned.
We are ready for negotiations anywhere and at any stage.
The doors are open but they (the United States) imposed a war on us and we have no option left but to fight for our country, Waliullah said.
We want a free and independent Afghanistan.
We are ready for positive negotiations which can bring results and peace in our country.
We agree that all those concerned should be a part of these negotiations.
But despite the apparent conciliatory tone, another spokesman told AFP that all the preconditions Hekmatyar raised in the past remained.
We have five conditions for peace talks, said Zubair Sediqi, a spokesman who frequently calls reporters to claim attacks on Hekmatyars behalf.
All the foreign forces must leave Afghanistan unconditionally.
A permanent ceasefire must be enforced.
All prisoners from all side must be freed.
An interim administration must take charge for one year.
Such an interim administration must organise an election within one year, Sediqi added, also speaking from an unknown location.
His comments reflected a video of Hekmatyar posted on the Wall Street Journal website on Thursday, in which the warlord said that before talks took place, they (foreign forces) should be willing to leave Afghanistan.