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Afghan Talks Seem Only Road to Peace
Daring Taliban attack at a 5-star hotel in Kabul reveals new threats
Daud Khan (aimalkhan)     Print Article 
Published 2008-01-21 04:13 (KST)   
The Taliban attack last week at a five-star hotel in Kabul, the fortified capital of Afghanistan, reveals that not everything is OK despite the presence and hot pursuit of militants by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the US-led Coalition troops.

Seven people, including foreigners, were killed in a daring assault on the Serena Hotel by armed men. The attack at the heavily guarded facility in the heart of the city, where foreign dignitaries and nongovernmental organization personnel often stay and hold ceremonies, raised many eyebrows and disclosed the hollowness of claims of improving security by the Afghan government and its foreign backers.

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The attack was followed by a report from a foreign NGO that said the battle with the Taliban was just beginning instead of coming to an end. Although the militants have suffered numerous setbacks recently -- the recapture of Musa Qala district in volatile Helmand province by Afghan and foreign troops; the elimination of Taliban support bases in the districts of Panjwayee and Zherai in Kandahar by NATO troops; the killing of scores of insurgents in the southeastern provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika -- the Taliban still seem to be an organized force.

The voices of reconciliation with the militants, active since the US-led invasion in late 2001, have gained momentum in recent weeks.

Last week a delegation of Afghan elders from the eastern provinces called on President Hamid Karzai to discuss various options for peace, including a suggestion that negotiations be held with the Taliban.

This is not the first time that the voice of peace came from a quarter of Afghan society. Earlier, British troops, in an understanding with local elders, entered into a truce with the militants in Musa Qala district. The truce, reached in February 2007, held fast until last month when NATO and Afghan troops regained control of Musa Qala following a joint operation by militants.

The first step taken by the government was the appointment of a former Taliban commander as chief of the district. In a similar move, a former mujahideen commander was nominated as chief of the lawless Andar district in Ghazni province, located some 90 mile south of Kabul.

During private discussions, the need for reconciliation with the Taliban militants has been recognized by Afghan officials. However, they say the Karzai government has had to look for a green signal from its foreign backers, especially the United States.

"[Whether] voluntary or involuntary any effort to distance the Taliban from the negotiation process will not augur well in bringing peace and stability to the war-torn Afghanistan," said Habibullah Rafi, researcher and analyst.

According to Rafi, the Taliban draw their support from rural areas, mainly in the south where the government and the welfare organizations have little access. That void is being filled by the militants and their supporters, which explains why the Afghan government and the foreign troops have failed to eliminate the Taliban despite an all-out effort over the past six years.

Sustained, the Taliban are staging a come back and challenging the writ of the government in areas close to Kabul such as the provinces of Maidan Wardak and Ghazni in the south, Logar in the southeast and Parwan and Kapisa in the north.

The attack at the Serena Hotel inside Kabul, the main base for nearly 48,000 foreign troops, signifies that the Taliban threat is real. Facilities such as ministries, governmental offices, foreign restaurants and guesthouses and even foreign embassies and missions are not safe.

A majority of analysts here believe that two and a half decades of war have embittered Afghan citizens, inculcating a deep sense of deprivation and insecurity. Since the government and foreign troops have failed for six years to overcome the Taliban insurgency, it seems unlikely they will be able to control it in future. Hence, the best option seems to be to call the militants to talks and work out a negotiated settlement.

The Taliban gain strength with each passing day, militarily and otherwise. Meanwhile, Afghan citizens face becoming casualties in military operations, unemployment in the backward areas, the non-availability of basic necessities, large-scale corruption in governmental and nongovernmental organizations and last, but not the least, the unchallenged presence of warlords in all parts of the country challenging the authority of the government.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Daud Khan

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