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Taliban coming in from cold

Citing fatigue, five Taliban commanders have taken an amnesty offer this month. Will more follow?

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 28, 2005


When Taliban commander "Dr. Rasheid" handed himself over to the Afghan government three months ago, he half expected to end up in a US plane bound for Guantánamo Bay.

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Instead, he was greeted with open arms and invited to help the government persuade his Taliban friends to turn themselves in as well.

His decision to accept Afghan President Hamid Karzai's amnesty offer has been followed in the past three weeks by at least five mid-level Taliban officials. It's too soon to tell if the trickle of hard-line Taliban commanders like Rasheid will become a torrent - and it's premature to declare the demise of the Taliban as a fighting force. With the warmer spring weather, in fact, the frequency and intensity of the Taliban attacks on some 16,000 US and 2,200 NATO forces is rising.

But the tide appears to be shifting. Fatigue is setting in among Taliban fighters. "We are tired of war; we don't want to continue with the destruction of our country," says Rasheid, who used a pseudonym for this interveiw because he continues to cross the border into Pakistan to persuade Taliban members to stop their fighting and support the Afghan government.

President Karzai offered an olive branch to rank-and-file Taliban fighters last year and said all but a core group of 150 militants wanted for human-rights violations would be able to rejoin the political process. "Not only the Taliban but all Afghans who are afraid of their past political affiliation can return home and resume their normal lives," says Jawed Luddin, a Karzai spokesman. "It is the time to rebuild our country."

Dr. Rasheid agrees but says "the Taliban are still worried that the government will take revenge on them, or they will send us to Guantanamo. We are trying our best to convince them [to accept the amnesty], but it is very hard work. Even so, we will not stop."

Meanwhile, recent attacks in southern and eastern Afghanistan suggest that anti-government militancy is not dead yet.

• On April 18, US and Afghan forces killed 17 suspected Taliban guerrillas and captured 17 others in the Dai Chopan district of southern province Zabul. Among the captured were Pakistani and Chechen nationals, the Afghan government says.

• In a separate incident in early April, US gunships killed 12 insurgents in the southeastern province of Paktia.

• In Khost, US troops detained 24 suspected Taliban during a Sunday night raid in remote Ali Sher district.

While the number of Taliban attacks are up compared with the winter months, they're still down compared with last spring. Last year at this time, the Taliban targeted election workers ahead of the presidential vote.

"It's hard to see a trend here," says Andrew Wilder, director of the Afghan Rehabilitation and Evaluation Unit, a Western-funded think tank in Kabul. "Last year at this time, the security situation was worse, with most of the violence related to election activities."

Such attacks come at a time when the US military, along with Afghan and Pakistani forces, are stepping up operations against the Taliban.

Lt Gen. David Barno said militants would look to score a "propaganda victory" by staging attacks prior to the Sept. 18 parliamentary elections. "Terrorists here in Afghanistan want to reassert themselves and I expect that they will be looking here in the next six to nine months or so to stage some type of high-profile attack to score media publicity," General Barno told reporters in Kabul last week.