Militant faction breaks off talks with US, Afghans

A major Afghan militant group is following in the Taliban's footsteps by suspending talks with the United States and the Kabul government, another setback to efforts toward a peaceful resolution to the decade-long war.

The insurgent faction Hezb-i-Islami was abandoning talks because they had produced nothing "practical," said the group's European representative, Qaribur Rahman Saeed. Earlier this month, the Taliban announced it was breaking off dialogue with the U.S.

Part of the U.S.-led coalition's exit strategy is to gradually transfer security responsibility to Afghan forces. Another tack is to pull the Taliban and other militant factions into political discussions with the Afghan government.

Hizb-i-Islami is a radical Islamist militia that controls territory in Afghanistan's northeast and launches attacks against U.S. forces from Pakistan. Its leader, powerful warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is a former Afghan prime minister and one-time U.S. ally who is now listed as a terrorist by Washington.

The U.S. and Afghan governments know that in addition to getting the blessing of Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar, any peace deal would have to be supported by Hekmatyar, who has thousands of fighters and followers primarily in the north and east. Mullah Omar is a bitter rival of Hekmatyar even though both are fighting international troops.

Saeed said the first official Hizb-i-Islami delegation held talks with the Afghan government in February 2010 and presented a 15-point peace plan. Then, in December 2011, at the request of the U.S., a Hizb-i-Islami delegation went to Kabul and met with American, Afghan, NATO and military coalition officials and had a working meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Saeed said.

"Since both of you (U.S. and Kabul authorities) don't have any practical and acceptable approach for the solution of the crisis, the negotiation is going to be suspended," Hekmatyar said in a statement that Saeed released to The Associated Press.

Saeed said, however, that while official talks have been suspended, informal discussion will continue through various channels in the U.S. and Europe.

Karzai said in January that he had personally held peace talks with Hizb-i-Islami that he hoped would continue and be fruitful.

The Taliban said they were suspending talks with the U.S. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid accused the U.S. of failing to follow through on its promises, making new demands and falsely claiming that the militant group had entered into multilateral negotiations.

Mujahid said they had agreed to discuss two issues only with the Americans: the establishment of the militant group's political office in Qatar and a prisoner exchange. The Taliban are seeking the release of five top Taliban leaders from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

The Taliban said the Americans initially agreed to take practical steps on these issues, but then "turned their backs on their promises" and came up with new conditions for the talks.

The White House has said that the U.S. continues to support an Afghan-led process toward reconciliation and that U.S. terms for participation in that process by the Taliban had not changed.