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Taliban talks a 'long, complex' process, Northern Alliance commander says

Proposed peace talks would be a "long and complex process" but likely would be snubbed by hard-liners and foreign fighters in the Islamic militia, one of anti-Taliban commanders warned Thursday.

The comments by Gen. Bismillah Khan - made during a visit by the most senior U.S. military chief for the region - appeared to reflect a more cautious approach by some in the Afghan military toward a push by President Hamid Karzai to open talks with the Taliban.

"This could be a beginning," Khan said following meetings with Adm. William Fallon, the head of U.S. Central Command. "But it's a long and complex process. It's not something that will have a significant effect in the short term."

Khan, the army chief of general staff, predicted that some Afghan supporters of the Taliban could be drawn into expanded negotiations for reconciliation with Karzai's Western-backed government - which has been offering peace deals to individual fighters for years.

But he said that foreign jihadists and core Afghan supporters would probably never come to the table.

"There are factions in the Taliban that will reject (talks) completely," he said after taking Fallon on a tour of the tomb of slain anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Shah Massood in the Panjshir Valley, about 50 miles northeast of Kabul.

Khan was a top Northern Alliance commander under Massoud, who was killed in 2001 by two Arab bombers posing as journalists. Khan later fought alongside the U.S. forces that helped topple the Taliban following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Fallon's stop in Afghanistan - part of a 10-day visit that includes the Persian Gulf and Iraq - seeks to review U.S.-led strategies to battle Taliban guerrillas struggling to regain footholds around the country. Fallon oversees U.S. military forces across Central Asia, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.

The overtures for peace talks received initial encouragement from a Taliban spokesman and have been welcomed by NATO and the United Nations. But the Taliban leadership returned with pre-conditions that would effectively kill chances for talks - that the Pentagon and NATO withdraw its forces and Islamic law is re-imposed on the country.

More likely, said Khan and other Afghan officials who greeted Fallon, is that the peace talk offers could attempt to splinter the Taliban and other militant groups between those looking for reconciliation and others seeking to fight on.

Washington urges Taliban fighters to surrender. But it rejects blanket peace talks, saying the U.S. won't negotiate with terrorists. Some Taliban commanders are held at Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Taliban militants last month forced the government of South Korea to negotiate directly with them over the fate of 23 South Korean church volunteers kidnapped in central Afghanistan in July.

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