- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 5, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

For the past five years, President Hamid Karzai has been trying negotiation and reconciliation with the “moderate Taliban” to resolve the insurgency and establish peace in Afghanistan.

This approach has failed every time. In the process, it has revealed the weakness of the Afghan government and its international allies in the fight against terrorism. As preconditions for talks, the Taliban clearly demanded, time and time again, the departure of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and implementation of Shariah law in order to start a dialogue with the Afghan government.

President Obama recently suggested a dialogue with the moderate Taliban. Shortly thereafter, the Taliban rejected that proposal, saying there were no extremist or moderate groups within their ranks. On this point at least, the Taliban are right - at least if one thinks in terms of the formal hierarchy of the organization.

As Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Pajhwok Afghan News, “Taliban were united under the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar. All the fighters follow and obey orders of one central command. The existence of moderates and extremists elements within the ranks and files of Taliban is a wishful thinking of the West and Afghan government.”

What can be the purpose of talks with the Taliban? Let us not forget with what we are dealing. Taliban deprive women of their rights, throw acid in the faces of girls attending school, reject religious freedom, oppose constitutional democracy, and otherwise pursue a radical, oppressive agenda. They also threaten Afghans who work with nongovernmental organizations or have other contact with foreigners.

If there were still any doubt, Mohammed Ibrahim Hanafi, a top Taliban commander, in a 15-minute phone interview with CNN, recently said, “Our law is still the same old law which was in place during our rule in Afghanistan.”

People in the West seem to realize that the popularity of the United States and other NATO forces as well as Mr. Karzai is declining among Afghans. This is true. However, it must not be forgotten that Afghans detest the Taliban. No poll shows the Taliban achieving double-digit popularity in the past eight years in Afghanistan.

From my conversations with different people from different provinces, I gather that no Afghan wants the Taliban to return. The Afghans enjoy their freedom to listen to music, laugh out loud, go to school, watch movies, work and, most of all, have platforms to express themselves.

Realistically, there are not and will not be any “moderate Taliban.” Extremists and ideologues do not tend to compromise.

The key to reconciliation is at the grass-roots level. Many local mullahs and normal citizens are open to working with an Afghan government that can protect them and help them find a viable livelihood.

When the locals condoned or tolerated Taliban in the past, it sometimes was out of fear or lack of any perceived alternative. By better protecting the population, by organizing local citizens groups to cooperate on economic development and by recruiting more locals around the country into the growing Afghan army and police, the Afghan government and its international partners can weaken the insurgency. Only in this way will “reconcilables” be separated from irreconcilables - namely, anyone connected with Mullah Omar and his fellow purveyors of hate and extremism.

For the good of the Afghan people and the world at large, we need to understand where Afghanistan’s true moderates are to be found and not look for them among the leaders of one of the most unfortunate and unpalatable organizations on Earth.

Hassina Sherjan is an Afghan-American who worked for human rights in Afghanistan during the 1990s and then, after the overthrow of the Taliban, moved back to Kabul, where she runs a nongovernmental organization and a business.

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