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Taliban kidnap Afghan peace council member

30 January, 2012

KABUL: The Taliban have kidnapped a member of Afghanistan's peace council during a bid to promote talks in the volatile east, underscoring the difficulty negotiators face in winning support for nascent negotiations from the Taliban frontline.

Maulavi Shafihullah Shafih, a low-level member of the High Peace Council set up by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to liaise with the Taliban, disappeared on Friday in the Asmar district of the eastern province of Kunar, authorities said on Sunday.

Shafih, a former Education Department head in neighbouring Nuristan province, had travelled from Kabul to meet insurgents and encourage them to join the peace process after Taliban leaders proposed opening a representative office in Qatar.

"As soon as he left his car Taliban captured him," said Shahzada Shahid, another member of the 70-member council who had travelled to the Kunar capital of Asadabad in an effort to free Shafih with support from community elders. Shafih's abduction comes four months after High Peace Council head Burhanuddin Rabbani was assassinated by an insurgent carrying a bomb hidden in his turban.

The attack wounded four people, including Masoom Stanekzai, head of the council's secretariat. It also comes after an offer by the Taliban's leadership to open an office in Qatar to lay the ground for possible peace talks with the United States and its main allies, including the Afghan government.

Kunar Governor Fazlullah Wahidi said Shafih had been carrying a letter from a senior member of the peace council to give to insurgents in Kunar, which lies along the rugged and porous border with Pakistan.

A Taliban spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Kunar Police chief Mohammad Ewaz Naziri said Shafih had not alerted authorities of his visit.

"He went to Asmar without informing us. We don't know where and how he went missing," he said.

Two senior council members told Reuters last week that they believed the Taliban were willing to soften hard-line ideologies in order to end the war with NATO and Afghan forces ahead of the departure of foreign combat troops in 2014

But Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, the council's adviser on foreign relations, said while he saw signs of moderation among the Taliban leadership, a peace deal had the potential to split front-line fighters with more hard-line views.

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