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Afghans should handle Taliban talks: envoy

The United States should let Afghans handle talks with the Taliban and steer clear of an Iraq-like plan to arm local leaders against Al-Qaeda, says the country's ambassador.

world Updated: Mar 12, 2009 10:56 IST

The United States should let Afghans handle talks with the Taliban and steer clear of an Iraq-like plan to arm local leaders against Al-Qaeda, the country's ambassador said on Wednesday.

US President Barack Obama has floated the idea of talking to moderates within the Taliban -- whose extremist regime was ousted in 2001 -- as part of his new strategy to put down an insurgency and bring stability.

"We must have a coordinated and unified approach on talking to the Taliban, and the conduit should be through the Afghan government," the Afghan ambassador to the United States, Said Jawad, said in a speech at Harvard University.

Jawad cautioned Western leaders who have said the Taliban are winning.

"If they are not losing, why should they talk to us?" he asked.
"Negotiation and reconciliation with the Taliban will succeed only if we talk to them from the position of strength and with a clear and strong stand on human rights, women's rights and the Afghan Constitution," he said, according to his prepared text.

Obama himself said the United States was not winning the war in Afghanistan, in an interview Saturday to The New York Times.
Obama, while acknowledging Afghanistan was different, noted successes in Iraq under then US commander General David Petraeus, who worked with local Sunni leaders fed up with Al-Qaeda -- even those with "fundamentalist" beliefs.

Jawad warned decades of war in his country meant "Afghanistan is not Iraq."

"The true and traditional tribal leaders are now replaced by warlords and narco-traffickers. To arm them will have serious repercussions to the stability of Afghanistan and the region," he said.

Jawad said Afghanistan has long engaged in dialogue with Taliban members and has won over some 600 "mid-level commanders."
He said such mid-level Taliban members often had grievances over civilian casualties from US and NATO air strikes or over abuses by the Afghan government, but that they "can be reconciled through dialogue, buying off, bribery and coercion."

The ambassador added that it was also possible to bring in low-level Taliban who joined the movement only to escape poverty, saying they simply needed jobs.

But Jawad said dialogue was futile with hardcore ideological Taliban and Al-Qaeda members -- who he said were more deeply rooted in Afghanistan than in Iraq.

"They must be defeated or eliminated by force," he said. "We mustn't forget that in 2001, there were talks with the Taliban for it to deliver Osama bin Laden, but that yielded no success."

Separately, the ambassador welcomed the commitment against extremism of Pakistan's civilian president, Asif Ali Zardari. But Jawad said that Pakistan's army has yet to consider extremists its enemy.
Pakistan had supported the Taliban regime until the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

"The perceived enemy has always been and remains to be India. In this battle, extremists are considered an ally," Jawad said.

He voiced hope that US diplomacy would help allay the Pakistani army's mistrust of India. Muslim Pakistan and secular but predominantly Hindu India have fought three full-fledged wars since their separation at birth in 1947.

First Published: Mar 12, 2009 10:52 IST