[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): After decade of war, Afghans mull Taliban return

[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): After decade of war, Afghans mull Taliban return

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Thu, 6 Oct 2011 19:31:31 +0200

After decade of war, Afghans mull Taliban return

Thu Oct 6, 2011 12:02pm GMT

By Martin Petty and Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) - Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, a former right hand man to the
reclusive, one-eyed leader of the Taliban, believes there is only one way to
end a decade of fighting in Afghanistan. Return the hardline Islamists to

Foreign troops are starting to head home anyway, he argues, and the Taliban
are tough enough to keep on fighting for years.

"The only way to finish the fight against the Taliban is to bring them to
power and get foreigners out," Muttawakil said in an interview at his Kabul
home, perched on a mock tiger-skin sofa and dressed in a traditional white
shalwar kameez baggy tunic and trousers.

Besides, he adds, corruption, insecurity and immorality have flourished
since U.S.-backed troops ousted the group from Kabul, and their return would
end much of that.

Other Afghans are not as enthusiastic about the reappearance in government
of a group they remember as cruel and oppressive rulers. But as foreign
troops start to head home with the war far from over, it is a future many
are planning for.

"When the U.S. leave, in one week, the Taliban will return. I believe 100
percent they will take back power, whether the Afghan people want them or
not," said Khalid Ahmad, who sells women's clothes adorned with glitter and

"If they return, they'll reintroduce their Islamic laws, they'll do the same
as they did before. If that happens, I won't leave, but I doubt I will be
able to have a business like this."

During their 1996-2001 rule the Taliban implemented heavily oppressive
policies, including shutting women out from most work and study and
restricting their movements.

They publicly executed adulterers, brought back physical punishments
including amputation, and the Pashtun-dominated movement discriminated
against Afghans from other ethnic groups.

Their austere interpretation of Islam also alienated Afghans who were not
affected by their harsher rules. They banned television, some sports and
most music, arrested men without beards, and beat those who didn't attend


The U.S. and other Western and regional powers have insisted their
commitment to Afghanistan will last beyond the December 31, 2014, deadline
agreed by NATO and Afghan President Hamid Karzai for getting foreign combat
troops out.

Top U.S. officials including the ambassador in Kabul say months of tentative
moves to talk to the Taliban about a political end to a decade-long war will
progress only if the military pressure on the group is sustained or

"The Taliban needs to be further weakened to the point where they will come
to the table prepared to accept the conditions we have set jointly with the
Afghans," Ambassador Ryan Crocker told Reuters in a recent interview.

But many Afghans see efforts to reach out to the Taliban, by both Karzai and
the West, as a sign that cash and commitment for the war are waning.

Confidence in the Afghan police and army, riven by corruption, drug use and
illiteracy, is not high.

So there is a growing sense that the Taliban are likely to be back, either
through force or through a settlement more advantageous to the group than to
departing Western powers.

"I'm worried the Taliban will return. If the foreign forces leave us halfway
along this journey all the gains will be dramatically lost," said 24
year-old shop owner Abbas.

But for others weary of violence after three decades of fighting, the return
of the insurgent group would be preferable to another descent into
full-blown civil war.

And although foreign troops were initially welcomed as liberators across
swathes of anti-Taliban Afghanistan, their presence has brought many deaths,
and the billions of dollars channelled into the country funded corruption as
much as change.

More than 11,000 civilians are believed to have died in the war, and
thousands more were injured. Although insurgents caused about 80 percent of
civilian deaths this year, the foreign forces are seen by some as the root
cause of the suffering.

"The rise in immoral activities, suicide bombings, and all our misery is
because of American presence in Afghanistan," said Abdul Nazir, an imam at a
Kabul mosque. He agrees with Muttawakil that if they leave, the violence
will end.

"I know that Taliban also kill innocent people and want to enforce strict
sharia law, but they are still Muslims and better than the infidels here.
The Taliban are successful because many Muslims see them as sole guardians
of Islamic values."


The Taliban themselves have also been changed by a decade of guerrilla
warfare inside their country, and technological and political changes
globally, though they still espouse an austere brand of Islam and want it
enforced in Afghanistan.

There have been hints in statements and from former Taliban officials that
they may have softened their stance on issues like education and private

Some analysts say they are seeking to position themselves as a pan-Afghan
movement capable of running a civilian government, rather than a
Pashtun-dominated militant group.

Leader Mullah Omar issued a rare statement in August to mark Eid al-Fitr,
Islam's most important festival, saying that Taliban rule would be an
inclusive meritocracy.

"Our manifesto is that Afghanistan should have a real Islamic regime which
is acceptable to all people of the country. All ethnicities will have
participation in the regime and portfolios will be dispensed on the basis of
merits," an English translation of his speech provided by the group said.

The Taliban would boost the country's mining and energy sectors, he
continued, to free Afghans from the "tentacles of poverty, unemployment,
backwardness and ignorance".

And although attacks on schools continue in the provinces, Karzai's
education minister suggested this year the Taliban may no longer seek to bar
girls from studying.

Sceptics caution however that political positioning can be very different
from real change, and the Taliban if they do grab or negotiate a stake in
Afghanistan's government may want to rule their country in a way little
changed from 2001.

"With their mentality and ideology, it would be very difficult for them to
accept others and also, for others to accept them," said Ghulam Jelani Zwak,
director of the Afghan Analytical and Advisory Centre in Kabul.

"We have a long, long way to go before this could happen."

(Additional reporting by Sayed Hassib; Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison and
Robert Birsel)

C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved


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