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.
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Those US officials who support such reconciliation argue that if an accommodation can be made that ends violence and prevents Taliban control of much of the country, it could create the conditions for stamping out corruption and improving governance that are at the heart of the current international effort.Skip to next paragraph
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They point to the experience in Iraq, where the outreach – with cash – to Sunni insurgents was a crucial step to ending the civil war that erupted there in 2006. Known as the Sons of Iraq, they worked with the US to rout Al Qaeda.
But Afghanistan is not Iraq, and some Afghan leaders argue that the ideologically driven Taliban – who believe the country should be run by their stark interpretation of the Koran alone – are simply buying time, and that Pakistan still supports Taliban-led Pashtun hegemony inside the country.
“The Taliban are very clear in their ideology and their ultimate intentions. What they want is to make Afghanistan a place where it’s impossible for people like me to live,” says Waliullah Rahmani, a minority Hazara, who runs the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies. “Nothing is going to come of these talks except maybe encouraging the Taliban.”
Why minorities are opposed to Taliban reconciliation
The Taliban’s base of support lies in the Pasthun community, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, which includes Mr. Karzai.
Tajik and Uzbeks worry that in the short term, Taliban reconciliation could mean taking government jobs away from minorities; in the long term, it could lead to a Taliban takeover.
Tajik and Uzbek military commanders were among some of the most ferocious in the 1980s war to oust the Soviets, only to see the unity of the mujahideen – a catch-all for various ethnically and religiously based militias – disintegrate after the Soviets left in 1989.
What ensued was a civil war over the spoils, with warlords seeking to carve out their own fiefdoms to control smuggling and extortion opportunities.
That environment eroded what little trust and respect average Afghans had for the nominal government in Kabul, and helped fuel the rise of the Taliban, who were armed and funded by a Pakistan eager for a pliant government in Kabul. But the Taliban government passed over ethnic minorities for top posts, shut in the country's women, and persecuted religious minorities such as Shiites. These groups now form the backbone of opposition to any Taliban return.
“The majority of the people are not for a return of the Taliban,” says Abdullah Abdullah, a defeated challenger of Karzai’s in last year’s fraud-ridden presidential election. “But if you keep giving us a message that they are going to return, you confuse them [people], cause them to lose trust, and make them doubt whether it’s worth fighting.”
Dr. Abdullah, whose support base lies with the Tajiks, says the Taliban have no intention of giving up their plan to regain control of the country, and that Pakistan will continue to support them by giving haven to their fighters just across the border.