WASHINGTON - Afghan President Hamid Karzai confirmed holding unofficial talks with the Taliban "for quite some time," in a bid to end the nine-year war, according to an interview transcript released Sunday. "We have been talking to the Taliban as countryman to countryman, talk in that manner," Karzai told CNN's Larry King when asked about a Washington Post report on "secret high level talks" between the two sides.
"Not as a regular official contact with the Taliban with a fixed address but rather unofficial personal contacts have been going on for quite some time," he said in a release of excerpts from the interview, to air in full on Monday.
Last week the Washington Post said the secret talks were believed to involve the Afghan government and representatives authorized by the Quetta Shura, the Afghan Taliban group based in Pakistan, and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. It cited unnamed Afghan and Arab sources.
Earlier Sunday, Afghanistan's former president Burhanuddin Rabbani was elected chairman of a new peace council, a brainchild of Karzai, set up to broker an end to the war with the Taliban.
"Now that the peace council has come into existence, these talks will go on and will go on officially and more rigorously I hope," Karzai told Larry King. The Afghan leader said there had been "no official contacts with a known entity that reports to a body of Taliban and that comes back and reports to us regularly.
"That hasn't happened yet and we hope we can begin that as soon as possible," he added.
"But contacts of course have been there between various elements of the Afghan government at the level of community and also at a political level."
The High Peace Council is intended to open a dialogue with insurgents who have been trying to bring down his government since the US-led invasion overthrew their regime in late 2001.
The 68-member council, hand-picked by Karzai, was set up following a nationwide conference in June and was inaugurated on October 7 amid mounting reports of secret peace talks with Taliban leaders and key insurgent groups.