Page last updated at 12:20 GMT, Wednesday, 8 October 2008 13:20 UK

Karzai's brother 'met ex-Taleban'

By Martin Patience
BBC News, Kabul

Afghan Taleban
The Taleban are fighting Afghan and foreign troops across the country

The Afghan president's brother sat with former Taleban leaders at a religious meal hosted by the Saudi King Abdullah last month, the BBC has learnt.

The meeting is regarded as a possible prelude to talks between the Afghan government and the Islamic movement.

Reports suggest negotiations took place during this meeting, although this has been strongly denied by both sides.

Recently, British and US officials said a resolution to the conflict would require negotiations with the Taleban.

'No formal talks'

Last month the king of Saudi Arabia played host to an extraordinary cast of political players during a religious meal.

The BBC understands that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's older brother, Qayum Karzai, was in attendance, as well as former Taleban leaders.

Also present was the former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and a delegation of at least 15 Afghans.

In addition, men representing every political movement in Afghanistan "at some point or another" were at the meal, the Taleban's former ambassdor to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, who was also present, told the BBC.

He said that there was an eagerness in the room to find a solution to end the violence in Afghanistan but denied that any "formal talks" had taken place.

For their part, both the Afghan government and the Taleban have also flatly denied that there were any negotiations.

But while it is not clear what was discussed in Saudi Arabia, the meeting of leaders and politicians appears to be far more than a coincidence.

In the past, Saudi Arabia has acted as a broker between the Taleban and other parties. It was one of only three countries (Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates were the others) to recognise the Taleban government in the mid-1990s.

The presence of the former Mr Sharif could also be significant. Mr Sharif played a significant role in brokering a deal between various warring mujahideen factions in Afghanistan during the early 1990s.

'Political means'

In recent days, in Kabul and in Western capitals, there appears to be an emphasis on pushing for negotiations with the Taleban.

On Sunday, there was a flurry of interest after the UK's most senior military official in Afghanistan, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, said that there could be no military solution to the conflict.

Then the UN special envoy, Kai Eide, weighed in on Monday, saying: "If you want to have relevant results, you must speak to those who are relevant."

And finally, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday that the only way to win the war was "through political means".

But any negotiations with the Taleban will be fraught with difficulties - it's not clear whether the movement even wants talks.

The Taleban's senior leader Mullah Omar, in his traditional end of Ramadan message, made no indication that he was willing to speak to the Afghan government, instead, insisting that foreign troops leave the country.

There's also doubt about what role Saudi Arabia could play.

Some analysts say that the Saudis are still furious after Mullah Omar reversed his decision in 1998 to hand over Osama Bin Laden to Prince Turki al Faisal, the former Saudi head of intelligence. Mullah Omar then also insulted the Saudi kingdom and its rulers.

Whatever is happening there appears to be momentum - but nobody seems to know in what direction that will take Afghanistan.

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