- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2011

Osama bin Laden’s death in a U.S. commando raid could shock Taliban militants, who once sheltered the al Qaeda leader, into peace talks with the Afghan government, according to Afghanistan’s ambassador in Washington.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Ambassador Eklil Hakimi also urged the White House to resist calls to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan prematurely and warned that al Qaeda is still a threat.

Killing bin Laden should be a “good lesson” for the Taliban, Mr. Hakimi said.

“[Bin Laden’s death] created the hope for leadership of the Taliban to join the reconciliation and reintegration process,” he added.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has set three conditions for reconciliation of Taliban militants: They must lay down their arms, renounce al Qaeda and respect the Afghan Constitution. The reconciliation process has had limited success.

Over the weekend, the Taliban claimed responsibility for at least six suicide bombers, who killed four people and injured dozens in Kandahar, the second-largest city in Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai said the attack was “revenge” for bin Laden’s death.

However, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. James B. Laster, a spokesman for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, said the violence “clearly was intended to be a spring offensive spectacular attack.”

Bin Laden’s death has prompted calls from some in Congress for the Obama administration to accelerate its withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of strong feeling on the part of most Democrats and many … and even some Republicans that the decision of the president to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan should be a robust reduction,” Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last week.

President Obama has committed to starting a troop withdrawal in July.

Mr. Hakimi urged the administration to resist the temptation to abandon Afghanistan, as Washington did after U.S.-backed rebels defeated a Soviet occupation army in 1989.

He also noted that Afghanistan became less important to the United States after U.S. attention shifted to Iraq in 2003. U.S. forces toppled the Taliban, when it refused to give up bin Laden after the al Qaeda leader planned the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“We all witnessed the consequences of those decisions,” he said.

Mr. Hakimi described bin Laden as a “symbolic leader” and warned that al Qaeda remains active despite his death.

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