- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said yesterday after visiting Afghanistan that the war there cannot be won without a political solution that draws in farmers who are being recruited by the Taliban.

But regional analysts and local Afghans said that for any deal to work the Taliban would have to be given a role in the government — a chancy proposal given their ruthless devotion to Shariah, the Islamic law.

“We have to do a better job — the Afghan government, the United States and the world community — in capturing the hearts and minds of the Afghan people,” Mr. Frist, Tennessee Republican, told CNN from Iraq after his daylong visit to Afghanistan.

Mr. Frist and Sen. Mel Martinez, Florida Republican, visited Kabul and Qalat, where they met with President Hamid Karzai, greeted U.S. troops and received briefings from military personnel.

Mr. Frist said the Taliban was actively recruiting in the rural areas of southern Afghanistan and more had to be done to bring Afghan tribesmen into the government.

“By day they are farmers, and by night they take up arms and are Taliban,” he said. “If we reach out to them, and we are doing that aggressively, they won’t be Taliban, but assimilated in the society there.”

A statement released by Mr. Frist’s office said the majority leader did not think Taliban fighters should be brought into the reconciliation process.

Shortly after the senators left, two gunbattles erupted in eastern Afghanistan, killing four Afghans and two U.S. troops, the Associated Press reported. A suicide bomber on a motorbike attacked a Canadian convoy in the southern city of Kandahar, but no troops were injured, a NATO spokesman said.

Afghanistan analysts say it will take more than persuading rural workers to defeat the Taliban insurgency.

“I think a future attempt to include the Taliban is probably going to have to go further than an amnesty,” said Christopher Langton, the head of defense analysis at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“It might have to involve parties as far afield as Pakistan, and there is going to have to be a considerable measure of benefit to the Taliban,” he said.

Although the Afghan government and its international allies understand the need for a political solution, it is not clear how it would work or whether the Taliban would be allowed to practice Shariah on a limited or regional basis.

“They have to gauge very carefully what the message is if they make the offer,” Mr. Langton said.

One young Afghan businesswoman visiting Washington said many people still feared and resented the Taliban after their 1996-2001 rule, and warned that promoting the ethnic Pashtun Taliban could create dangerous ethnic divides.

A federal solution now is not the right path for Afghanistan, said the businesswoman, who asked that her name not be used out of fear of retribution in Kabul.

“We are not strong enough for a federal solution,” she said.

If the Pashtuns have more powers to govern their own areas, Afghanistan’s neighbors could take advantage of it, she said.

“We are not strong enough [to resist] the influence of our neighbors Pakistan and Iran.”

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