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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.

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Karzai’s peace steps have included a so-called “peace jirga” convened in Kabul earlier this month that brought together 1,600 prominent Afghans to talk about the best way to approach negotiations with the insurgents. Yet many non-Pasthun warlords and politicians from the north were conspicuously absent.

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Shortly after the jirga, the head of Afghanistan’s NDS intelligence agency, Amrullah Saleh, resigned his post. His friends say it was over opposition to talking to the Taliban. Mr. Saleh, a Tajik, had earlier branded prisoner-release plans a “disgrace.” Karzai has not since filled his post, and opposition politicians say they expect the president to fill it with a Pashtun.

Many average Tajiks were incensed by events and are convinced he [Saleh] was pushed out. “This man was honest, hardworking, and kept us safe,” says Naime Abdullah, visiting a market in Kabul from the Panjshir valley. “He was removed because he’s a Tajik, and we won’t forget that.”

After the jirga, Karzai set up a committee to review the cases of Taliban fighters in custody and freed 21 prisoners last week. The government said it found that almost all of the men were innocent, while two had turned themselves in before carrying out a suicide bombing mission.

The Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent group of scholars and researchers, says that prisoner releases are nothing new and that it appears some men involved in violence have been among the beneficiaries. In a post on its website, the group quotes a released Taliban leader as saying “hundreds” of Taliban detainees were released on Karzai’s orders last September to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid el-Fitri.

One of detainees released last year was Taliban commander Akbar Agha, who now lives under close government supervision in Kabul. He had been sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2004 for ordering the kidnapping of three United Nations workers. (The captives, from Kosovo, the Philippines, and Britain, were eventually rescued.)

That sort of crime is among the reasons that Ms. Zai, the Kandahar member of parliament, cannot countenance any compromise with the Taliban.

“They kidnapped my son, executed other prisoners in front of him, and made me pay $150,000 for his freedom,” she says. “Bringing them into the government can’t be tolerated.”