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Carol Lin: Leaders negotiate Taliban withdrawal

QUETTA, Pakistan (CNN) -- Tribal leaders in Afghanistan reportedly are negotiating an exit strategy with the Taliban that would allow the regime safe passage out of Kandahar.

CNN's Carol Lin is in Quetta, where she filed the following report about the tribal leaders' ultimatum with the Taliban:

CNN: Let's talk about the situation and these negotiations that are under way with Kandahar. It has gone on for several days. What is taking so long?

LIN: Yes, you're talking about these Afghan tribal leaders who have issued an ultimatum to the Taliban to withdraw from Kandahar, or these tribal leaders say they want to go to war with them.

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What's taking so long is that they've sent a series of diplomatic missions, and at least three that we can count of so far, to try to negotiate with the Taliban. And at the same time, they have spent most of the day Sunday planning out their military strategy and sending commanders over the border to try to organize tribesmen inside of southern Afghanistan.

But I've been hearing from several sources they are now calling this "the big game," the game between the Pashtun leaders who want control of Kandahar and what these Pashtun leaders are willing to do for the Taliban who are looking for an exit strategy out of Kandahar.

CNN: And how long are the Taliban being given? In other words, is there a hard and fast deadline?

LIN: Well, nothing is ever hard and fast in this region, but we're hearing three days to a week. However, it really depends on how these negotiations shape up. And what we're hearing right now is inside of Kandahar on Sunday night as we speak -- there is a meeting going on with one of the major Pashtun tribes with delegates from Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's spiritual leader.

And what they're trying to do is negotiate who gets what. Basically how it's shaping up is that the Noorzai Pashtuns are anxious to take control of the city. And as we understand it, Mullah Omar is anxious to preserve manpower and ammunition for a potential guerrilla war.

We did hear from the Taliban ambassador Sunday in Pakistan -- he is en route to Islamabad -- and he is still saying that the Taliban are very much in control. But our sources inside of southern Afghanistan are saying that the Taliban are losing public support.

CNN: If these negotiations fall apart and there is no peaceful handover of Kandahar, how are tribal leaders preparing for the alternative?

LIN: The alternative, they say, is all-out war, and we have yet to really see the true test. Can they mass the manpower and the weaponry to take on the Taliban, which are still heavily armed? We have heard that these Afghan elders have sent commanders. One particular major commander has sent his general, along with what he says is 1,000 troops as well as weapons from Pakistan, to an area north of Kandahar to prepare for battle.

Other commanders, they say, have traveled across the border. And we do have an eyewitness who said that he saw a convoy of about 20 vehicles, which included Pakistani intelligence agents, escorting them through the border and on to the other side.

So what they're saying is they're positioning these commanders in these various provinces and organizing their tribesmen to be ready for an attack. But in this region, seeing is believing. However, as we're seeing up in Konduz, we see the influence of other Afghan tribal leaders in this political process and in the military process, and they have proven, at least to the north, that they do have some military influence on the ground.

CNN: These negotiations on the part of the tribal leaders with the Taliban, if they strike a deal, are they talking about where the Taliban would go? I presume the Taliban are not going to surrender.

LIN: They're really talking about withdrawal, less about surrender than about withdrawal. And what we understand is that a deal is in the works. The Taliban have not agreed to this, however, I want to caution, but the deal on the table would be something of an exit strategy for the Taliban.

We heard that Mullah Omar as well as a number of his fighters would be allowed to flee to the hills. And in order to get to those hills, they would have to cross these tribal territories. And so what some of these tribal leaders are talking about is safe passage for Mullah Omar and his men.

However, they have distinguished between Mullah Omar and his men and the al Qaeda network which, they say, will not be allowed to flee to the hills. But they see Mullah Omar and his men -- anyone who is an Afghan, and in particular, a Pashtun -- will be allowed to go free, home to their villages.


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