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Who's afraid of talking to the Taliban? Many Afghans

As General Petraeus assumes command in Afghanistan, President Karzai is pushing Taliban negotiations, but many Afghan women and minorities resist such talks.

By Staff writer / June 28, 2010

Staff Sgt. Jimmy Dionicio from East Orange, N.J., with the US C Troop 1-71 CAV speaks with Hafizallah, the leader of several Afghan villages, during a patrol in the village of Maruf-Kariz in Dand district, south of Kandahar, on June 26. Some Afghans find it difficult to negotiate with the Taliban.

Denis Sinyakov/Reuters

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Kabul, Afghanistan

As Gen. David Petraeus prepares to take command of the Afghanistan war, President Hamid Karzai’s outreach to the Taliban is drawing warnings from some Afghan factions, particularly women and ethnic minorities. They argue that peace offerings are undermining efforts to expel the movement from its strongholds and could, if reconciliation progresses much further, turn the former warlords who helped overthrow the Taliban in 2001 against the current central government.

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Malalai Ishaq Zai was a virtual prisoner in her own home in the southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar for nine years after the Taliban seized the city and imposed their puritanical and misogynistic version of Islam on the population.

Since then, she has run a school, headed a women’s organization, and become the sole female representative of Kandahar Province in the current parliament. But it has not all been smooth. She practically quivers with rage when she talks about the 2006 kidnapping of her eldest son by the Taliban and issues a stern warning to President Karzai, who has been making peace overtures to the movement that provided a haven for Osama bin Laden.

“People will be pushed to go back to open warfare if he brings these people into the government,” she says, the gold bangles on her arm jangling. “Our people are dying because of them, your people are dying because of them, and meanwhile he’s building his relationship with the Taliban. And who supports the Taliban? Iran and the ISI [Pakistan military intelligence].”

Can Iraq model work here?

Notwithstanding such concerns, the United States in recent months has given a tentative blessing to Karzai's outreach efforts, though some American officials still express skepticism that the Taliban will actually deliver in negotiations. CIA chief Leon Panetta told ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday, “We have seen no evidence that they are truly interested in reconciliation where they would surrender their arms [and] where they would denounce Al Qaeda.”

Yet Mohammad Akram, the director of the government’s Taliban reconciliation program, says he reckons only 15 percent or so of Taliban fighters are ideological die-hards influenced by Al Qaeda and committed to victory at any cost. He says his job is to convince the remainder that they won’t be punished if they lay down their weapons, and that they’ll have an economic future here.

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