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Afghanistan: Government Holds Talks With Moderate Taliban

  • Golnaz Esfandiari

Afghan and U.S. officials say in recent months several former high-ranking members of the Taliban have responded to an amnesty offer by the Afghanistan government and that talks have been held. On 28 February, the governor of Kandahar Province, a former Taliban stronghold, said he was hopeful that large numbers of the Taliban would soon rejoin the country's political and social life. Taliban hard-liners have reportedly dismissed the talks as propaganda and vowed to continue their fight. Last week, in a fresh surge of violence blamed on the Taliban militia, more than 20 rebels and Afghan troops were killed. RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari reports.

Prague, 2 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Rahimullah, an Afghan citizen, believes that a successful reconciliation process with the Taliban will help boost reconstruction.

He recently reacted to reports of talks between the Taliban and Afghan government in an interview with RFE/RL's Afghan Service.

"This is good news for our people, for our nation, for our brothers who had been deceived. It's a major achievement for our government. It's really time for unity, it's time to get along. We should hold each others' hands and rebuild our country."
Ousted Taliban leader Mullah Omar, in a statement, ruled out reconciliation as long as foreign troops remain in Afghanistan. He also vowed to continue the holy war against "foreign occupation."


The Afghan government is extending an olive branch to all but those Taliban members who had links with terrorist groups and those who committed atrocities during the 1996-2001 rule of the fundamentalist movement over most of Afghanistan.

The moves toward reconciliation were initiated last year by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who called on moderate Taliban members to participate in the political process and reconstruction efforts.

In recent months reports say there have been contacts between Afghan government officials and less radical members of the Taliban.

The U.S., which helped topple the Taliban in 2001, is supporting the process and the U.S. military is considering offering protection from arrest for those Taliban members who lay down their arms.

Vahid Mojdeh, an expert on the Taliban militia, told RFE/RL that the reconciliation talks are necessary in order to improve Afghanistan's security situation and attract investment. However he said that the success of the talks depends on whom the Afghan government is talking to: "If individuals from those regions -- where most of the Taliban operations are taking place -- contact the government and if the government can persuade them to give up fighting and violence, then we can say it's a big success."

Last month, the U.S.-based newspaper "The Washington Post" identified four former members of the Taliban whom the paper said had accepted the amnesty offer. The report was based on an identified source, but listed four Taliban members: Abdul Hakim Mujahid, the former Taliban envoy to the UN; Arsullah Rahmani, the former deputy minister of higher education; Rahmatullah Wahidyar, the former deputy minister of refugees and returnees; and Habibullah Fawzi, the former charge d'affaires at the Afghan embassy in Saudi Arabia.

Mujahid, said to be the leader of the group, confirmed later that the talks are aimed at what he called "national unity, understanding, and peace." However, he said he was not representing the Taliban but rather his own political party, the Khaddam al-Furqan (Servants of the Koran).

On 28 February, the governor of Kandahar Province, Gul Agha Sherzai, said he had face-to-face meetings and telephone talks with "some important Taliban leaders," but did not identify them. He said despite recent violence the Taliban fighters were no longer an effective force.

Mojdeh said, however, that even after their ouster from power three years ago, the Taliban remains dangerous: "They are operating very similar to Al-Qaeda, meaning that there is no central command and in each region the groups work [independently]. Therefore, it is more dangerous because it is not clear where there will be an attack or where will be the [next] operation. Because they've grown weaker they've had to change their guerrilla war tactics and, as time goes by, it is possible that they will become weaker, but it doesn't mean that they will be less dangerous. It is possible that despair will turn them to actions such as suicide attacks as we've witnessed in some cases."

In January agencies reported that the ousted Taliban leader Mullah Omar, in a statement, ruled out reconciliation as long as foreign troops remain in Afghanistan. He also vowed to continue the holy war against "foreign occupation."

On 27 February, a U.S. military spokesman said attacks by Taliban guerrillas are expected to increase as the weather improves.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She can be reached at EsfandiariG@rferl.org

     

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