Divisions within Taliban make peace elusive

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made news Wednesday when he said the combat role for U.S. troops in Afghanistan could end next year instead of 2014. On Thursday, he took a step back -- insisting U.S. forces will remain combat ready -- even as they transition into their new role of training Afghan troops.

Another part of the U.S. strategy involves getting the Taliban to hold peace talks with the Afghan government. CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward spoke with some top Taliban representatives where they live in Pakistan.

They call Sami ul Haq the "Father of the Taliban," one of Pakistan's most well-known and hard-line Islamists.

Ward visited ul Haq at his religious school near the Afghan border. Many Afghan Taliban leaders and fighters studied there, earning it the nickname the "University of Jihad."

Ul Haq said that top Taliban figures are receptive to the idea of peace talks, but that three key conditions must be met first: The Americans must leave Afghanistan, he told Ward. Secondly, Taliban leaders should be released from Guantonamo. The third demand is there should be no outside interference in Afghanistan.

It's unlikely that American negotiators will accept these terms, though a release of some prisoners from Guantanamo Bay has been discussed.

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While some elements of the Taliban's leadership may be supportive of peace talks, there are clear signs that there are divisions within the group. Many of the younger, more militant members say they are not ready to stop fighting.

CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward speaks with a Taliban commander (face hidden) about putting down arms and the chances of peace. CBS

At a small guesthouse on the outskirts of Islamabad, CBS News had the rare chance to sit down with a young Taliban commander from Helmand province. For security reasons, he asked that his face be not shown.

"If these talks in Doha are successful and Taliban leaders tell you and your fighters to put down your arms, will you do it?" asked Ward.

"No, it will not happen," he said. "And those who are talking to the political wing of the Taliban should understand that real peace is only possible by talking to the ground fighters."

"So the bottom line is you're not willing to compromise, you're not willing to collaborate? Is there any chance of peace?"

"If the Afghan government announced tomorrow that strict Islamic law would be reinstated, we would accept that," he said, "but those in power now will never go along with that."

For the moment, there is a huge gulf between what the Taliban and their backers want and what America would be willing to accept.

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News