By Sam Kiley, Defence and Security Editor
Sky News – Mon, Sep 10, 2012
The Taliban may be prepared to renounce terrorism and sever links with al Qaeda, accept a power sharing role in a new Afghan government and even tolerate American bases in their country, according to a new report.
A panel of four experts from the Royal United Services Institute interviewed four senior figures - each one part of the "pragmatic" or "moderate" part of the Islamist movement - at a secret location in the Arabian Gulf.
The four figures, among them two former Taliban ministers, a Mujahideen commander and a well-connected negotiator, surprised the experts by insisting that they had no enmity towards the United States.
They also held out the prospect that the Taliban could even join efforts to rid Afghanistan of al Qaeda if the movement was part of a national government.
Michael Semple, one of the authors of the report who has lead negotiations with elements of the Taliban in the past, said: "This derives from the understanding that there is not going to be a military solution in Afghanistan, that the war being fought is unwinnable, and from a strong sense among some of the 40-something Taliban leadership that they don’t want the country to disintegrate into civil war when foreign forces leave the country in 2014."
The report said: "The Taliban leadership and base deeply regret their past association with al Qaeda."
The United States and the Afghan government have made negotiations with the Taliban conditional on recognition of the Afghan constitution and of Mohammed Karzai's position as the country’s president.
The Taliban sources who spoke with Mr Semple, Professor Anatol Lieven, Professor Theo Farrell and Rudra Chaudhuri from Kings College war studies department, insisted that the Taliban would not agree to any preconditions to talks - and that they would not recognize the Karzai government "because they see it as totally corrupt".
This view is shared by many donors who have been horrified by the extent of corruption and the influence of drug barons in the Kabul administration.
But Mr Semple said Taliban moderates were driven by an understanding that the movement did not have universal support in Afghanistan and might only rely of 30% approval.
Foreign forces are due to end their combat role in Afghanistan by 2014. Diplomats are keen to try to bring the Taliban into a peace process by then to avoid the sort of carnage which destroyed much of the country in the mid-1990s civil war.
There have been repeated attempts to get negotiations under way either between the US and the Taliban or the Karzai government and the Taliban.
Mr Semple said the latter have been undermined by a strong feeling within the movement that Karzai is "an American puppet and therefore it’s not worth talking to him but to who is pulling his strings".
All of what the Taliban appear prepared to contemplate are concessions to their public policy to re-establish an Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan.
They could only be offered as part of a 'general settlement’ that would include a cease fire, renunciation of al Qaeda and an agreement to allow modern subjects to be taught in schools - which would be strictly segregated.
The renunciation of al Qaeda is based on the belief among many Taliban that it was "responsible for wrecking our work to create an Islamic state in Afghanistan", a founding member of the Taliban told the experts.
The Taliban has been selling itself as a more moderate force in Afghanistan for the last two years.
It has steered away from its deeply fundamentalist past and tried to portray itself as a viable alternative to the central government by ending attacks on schools and providing viable judicial services in areas under its control.
How deep this goes is unclear.
Also unclear is the extent to which the Taliban would be allowed to seek an accommodation in Afghanistan with their enemies by its principal backer, the Inter-Service Intelligence agency in Pakistan.
The ISI has traditionally favoured an unstable Afghanistan as a buffer against Indian influence on Pakistan’s western front.
The experts admitted that when Pakistan's role came up for discussion their Taliban sources "went quiet".
Tags: Afghanistan, Taliban, US, NATO, Occupation, Pakistan, terrorist, Punjabi, ISI, Al, Qaeda
Location: Afghanistan (load item map)
Marked as: approved
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