U.S.-Taliban talks only “exploratory”: Afghan envoy


Taliban fighters ride on motorbikes in an undisclosed location in Afghanistan July 14, 2009. REUTERS-Stringer
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai reviews the troops during a ceremony as he arrives at Orly airport near Paris January 27, 2012. REUTERS-Gonzalo Fuentes

1 of 2. Taliban fighters ride on motorbikes in an undisclosed location in Afghanistan July 14, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

By Serena Chaudhry

ISLAMABAD | Thu Feb 16, 2012 11:05am EST

(Reuters) – The Afghan Taliban and the United States have made only “exploratory” contacts for possible reconciliation which do not involve the Kabul government, the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan said on Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal said that the U.S. and Afghan governments had begun secret three-way talks with the Taliban, based on an interview it conducted with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“I must emphasize that word ‘exploratory’. They are not talks,” Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Umar Daudzai told Reuters.

“When there’s talks, it’s supposed to be between the Afghan government and the Taliban. We have not reached to that stage although we wish to reach to that stage.”

The Wall Street Journal quoted Karzai as saying the Taliban were “definitively” interested in a peace settlement to end the 10-year war in Afghanistan, and that all three sides were now involved in discussions.

It said Karzai had declined to specify the location of the talks or go into further detail, saying he feared this could damage the process.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also said the group had not held talks with the Karzai government.

The Afghan Taliban announced last month it would open a political office in Qatar, suggesting the group may be willing to engage in negotiations that could likely give it government positions or official control over much of its historical southern heartland.

“At a high level, (there are) secret talks and American-Taliban talks. I’m not aware of any other than the Qatar process,” said Daudzai.

“The Qatar process is exploratory contacts between Taliban and the United States.”

The Afghan ambassador said the Kabul government’s contacts with the Taliban were limited to communications between low-level officials and local insurgent commanders.

Washington wants to accelerate contacts with the Taliban so it can announce serious peace negotiations at a NATO summit in May, officials say, in what would be a welcome bright spot in Western efforts to end the war in Afghanistan.

The United States hopes it can declare a start to authentic political negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban at the May 20-21 summit in Chicago, after a year of initial, uncertain contacts with militant representatives.

It would be a needed victory for the White House and its NATO partners in Afghanistan as they struggle to contain a resilient insurgency and train a local army while moving to bring their troops home over the next three years.

(Additional reporting by Chris Allbritton in ISLAMABAD and Rob Taylor in KABUL; Editing by Michael Georgy and Nick Macfie)

‘The Wow’ is a toothy Valentine’s indulgence


Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum play a husband and wife who have to rediscover each other in

Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum play a husband and wife who have to rediscover each other in “The Vow.”

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • “The Vow” hits on an intriguing yarn and plays it out
  • Michael Sucsy’s movie is a different beast, a romance first and foremost
  • Channing Tatum is a good fit for the bruised and brooding Leo

     A love story released in time for Valentine’s Day, bringing together the stars of “The Notebook” (Rachel McAdams) and “Dear John” (Channing Tatum)?

Sounds like a cookie-cutter chick flick, for sure. But “The Vow” surpasses low expectations, for this male film critic at any rate, if only because it hits on an intriguing yarn and plays it out with some respect for the characters involved.

Tatum is Leo, a young man whose blissfully happy marriage is rear-ended by a snowplow — propelling wife Paige (McAdams) through the windscreen and into a brain trauma unit. When she wakes up, she’s okay — except that she’s wiped out the last five years entirely. She doesn’t know Leo, doesn’t remember dropping out of law school and switching to art classes, and doesn’t like anything she finds in her wardrobe. She also doesn’t remember cutting off her parents and her sister — Leo’s never even met them before — or why she broke up with her fiancé, Jeremy.

Amnesia often figures as a handy crutch for thriller writers who love teasing out doubt and deception, but Michael Sucsy’s movie is a different beast, a romance first and foremost, but a romance that claims to be inspired by a true story.

Sucsy (who directed Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange in “Grey Gardens”) plays down the condition’s inherent paranoia, in part by drawing us in through the eyes of the husband, Leo.

Here’s a guy who loves his wife, but who finds himself alone in the marriage because everything they shared as a couple has been erased. For Paige, home is the house she grew up in and the parents she remembers — wealthy, privileged suburbanites who are only too keen to set back the clock and pretend their little girl never strayed across the tracks.

An actor who finds “perplexed and concerned” well within his limited range, Channing Tatum is a good fit for the bruised and brooding Leo, and the lively Rachel McAdams has some nice moments as the (blank?) Paige — but flashbacks to happier days try too hard to force a chemistry that remains more theoretical than felt.

Still, the scenario (Sucsy is one of five credited writers) throws up some arresting questions about the nature of love. How can Leo still be in love with this woman who is a stranger to herself? Can he make her fall back in love with him? Is it even fair to try? Because these ideas are also emotional dilemmas the movie works surprisingly well despite its shortcuts and shortcomings.

It certainly isn’t subtle about its preference for the sympathetic Leo — and by extension, the vegan, tattooed, artistic Paige who voted for Obama — over her domineering father, played by Sam Neill, and the conservative values he represents — even though the uptown scenes are generally better written and more convincingly played than what amounts to a sitcom notion of bohemian chic.

Of course it’s more than a little convenient that Paige never stops to ask why she walked out on the life she was groomed for — the story’s second, hidden trauma. If she had, the whole construct falls apart. But let that go.

This is mostly a poignant and touching effort. Just as Leo woos his estranged wife with “Chocolate roulette” (not a game Rachel McAdams plays very often I’m betting), given the choice between hard edges and gooey centers, Sucsy invariably heads for the fudge: it’s sweet and chewy and fun to share.