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Afghanistan: Karzai Calls On Taliban To Participate In Elections

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has called on former Taliban members to participate in Afghanistan's upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. Some members of the ousted regime have threatened to disrupt the elections, due to be held in September.

Prague, 26 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Chairman Karzai has urged former members of the hard-line Taliban to participate in elections and reconstruction efforts.

He made the offer during a weekend visit to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, a former Taliban stronghold.

"If the rest of the people -- Taliban or non-Taliban, especially those in the Taliban -- want to come and live in this country, if they want to work and farm here, they are most welcome. This is their country, their home. Our dispute is only with those who destroy Afghanistan, who blow bombs and who, with the support of foreigners, bring destruction here," Karzai said.

The Afghan leader said only a few hardcore members of the Taliban group are unworthy of rehabilitation.

"Our problem is mainly with the top Taliban -- who may number no more than 150 people -- who had links with Al-Qaeda," said Karzai, referring to Osama Bin Laden's terrorist network. "Those people are the enemies of Afghanistan, and we are against them."

It appears the United States, who helped sweep the Taliban from power in 2001, is supporting Karzai's call for the reintegration of former members of the hard-line group into the Afghan society.

On 20 April, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad reportedly said he favored amnesty for all but the worst members of the old government -- those who had allied themselves with the terrorists and committed crimes against humanity.

Karzai's two-day visit to Kandahar Province took place under tight security measures. On 25 April, authorities said they arrested a man who was allegedly preparing to throw a bomb at the president's passing convoy. Karzai has already survived an assassination attempt in Kandahar in September 2002.

The security situation in Afghanistan has worsened in recent months, especially in the south.

"This type of offer, I don't think it's going to be of interest to [the Taliban leaders of the insurgency]." -- Vikram Parekh of International Crisis Group
Yesterday, the UN said because of several attacks it had temporarily suspended activities, including registering voters, in Kandahar Province.

Vikram Parekh, an expert on Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group, said Karzai's trip to Kandahar and his overtures to the Taliban are attempts to defuse opposition to the elections.

"I think with the elections coming up, with the registration rate still being lower in the south and east of Afghanistan than they are in the north and in the center, [Karzai] may have concluded that this would be one way of defusing intimidation or opposition to the process in areas that have been Taliban strongholds. It may also be a continuation of efforts that were apparent even during the constitutional Loya Jirga to bring [opponents] into the political process," Parekh said.

There has been no reaction so far from the Taliban to Karzai's call. Karzai yesterday said his government has been negotiating for several months with less radical members of the Taliban. He did not reveal their identities or any further details.

Parekh said that in his view, however, it is unlikely that any Taliban member trying to disrupt the political process would react positively to Karzai's call.

"I think the insurgency is led by a very limited number of Taliban, figures like Mullah Abdullah, Mullah Baradar. And this type of offer, I don't think it's going to be of interest to them. I think they've staked out their position as rejecting the international presence here, rejecting the Bonn political process and as far as the insurgency goes, I think that's going to continue. I mean you continue to see improvised explosive devices planted, [and] ambushes on international targets [and] NGOs. I think the people who are leading these operations are not interested in the political process," Parekh said.

The elections, which were postponed in June because of security concerns, are due to be held in September. So far only about one-fifth of the 10 million eligible voters have been registered for the ballot.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.