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Afghan opposition cautiously supports peace talks with Taliban but wants seat at the table
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) ' Prominent Afghan opposition leaders said Friday that they support possible U.S.-brokered peace negotiations with Taliban militants, but want to be part of any talks.
Members of a coalition representing Afghanistan's ethnic minorities spoke as they returned from a conference in Berlin, where they met with U.S. congressional leaders. Most of the delegation fought in the Northern Alliance against the Taliban government in the 1990s.
Minority support for any peace process is crucial because many former Northern Alliance figures wield power and influence, raising the possibility of civil strife if they don't approve of any deal with their longtime enemy.
The Taliban recently said they will open a political office in the Gulf state of Qatar and expressed interest in negotiations with the U.S., but it is so far unclear what other Afghan factions might be involved. The Taliban persist in referring to President Hamid Karzai's government as a puppet and stooge of foreign powers.
Prominent Tajik minority leader Ahmad Zia Masood said that he supports peace talks, but added that the government should be cautious of giving up too much in any future talks to end the decade-long war. Most international troops are scheduled to withdraw by 2014, making achieving a negotiated peace a more urgent priority.
"The achievements we have gained in the last 10 years, we shouldn't let go of them," Masood said, adding later, "If the peace process is not clear, then peace cannot be successful."
Masood is a prominent leader of the Afghan National Front opposition coalition and the brother of slain Northern Alliance chief Ahmad Shah Masood, considered a national hero by anti-Taliban forces.
Ethnic Hazara leader Mohammad Muhaqiq said minority leaders should participate in any future talks.
"If the government is going to start a peace process, then we should also be in this process because we also represent part of the nation," he said.
A spokesman for former Northern Alliance general Abdul Rashid Dostum said Friday that he also is in favor of peace talks despite earlier skeptical comments.
Dostum, a powerful Uzbek warlord accused of involvement in the deaths of 2,000 Taliban fighters shortly after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, was quoted in Berlin as saying it would be "naive" to exclude the possibility that the Taliban are using negotiations to assuage the U.S. government while troops are being withdrawn, while planning to "resurge" after they are gone at the end of 2014.
The spokesman, Faizullah Zaki, told reporters Dostum's earlier comments were overblown. "The general doesn't have any objection to peace and he is on the side of the peace process."