Petraeus holds out prospect of US reconciliation with Taliban

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Washington, Aug 16(ANI): The US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, has held out the prospect of eventual reconciliation with the Taliban, including negotiations with leaders with "blood on their hands".

"It doesn't mean that Mullah Omar is about to stroll down main street in Kabul anytime soon and raise his hand and swear an oath on the constitution of Afghanistan," The Daily Times quoted Petraeus, as saying.

"I think that there can be low-and mid-level reintegration and indeed some fracturing of the senior leadership that could be really defined as reconciliation," he added.

He also drew attention to the vulnerabilities in the insurgency, noting that it was "not some kind of monolithic Taliban enemy", but rather a syndicate of terrorist outfits.

"What is interesting is that the Taliban leads from the rear, as we would say. The Taliban leads from Pakistan. And by the way, the rank and file is just catching on to this," Petraeus said.

"We actually see discussions among them, chatter among them, conversation, wondering where their senior leaders are, and wondering why Mullah Omar hasn't set foot back in Afghanistan or even been heard from now in months and months and months," he added.

Earlier, the Obama administration had admitted that it was facing a dilemma over whether or not to extend an olive branch to Taliban fighters who have sheltered Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden for so long.

"It's our view that until the Taliban leadership sees a change in the momentum and begins to see that they are not going to win, the likelihood of significant reconciliation at senior levels is not terribly great," US Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had said.

The administration's openness to reconciling with other Taliban leaders has grown since last year because of its recognition that the war is not going to be won purely on the battlefield.

"Today, people agree that part of the solution for Afghanistan is going to include an accommodation with the Taliban, even above low- and middle-level fighters," said an administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Experts however fear that the reconciliation process could embolden the Taliban.

"The more there is talk of negotiation, the more the Taliban view it as a sign of weakness. How do you make sure the reconciliation process does not embolden the Taliban to go on the march?" said Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on Afghanistan at the Brookings Institution.

US-based campaign group Human Rights Watch had also said that it would be inadvisable to engage the Taliban in talks, as doing so could cause irreversible harm to women in Afghanistan.

It claims that after the Taliban was driven from power in 2001, women in Afghanistan, even in conservative areas in the south, returned to jobs as teachers, civil servants and health workers, and now if that group returned to power, the levels of intimidation against women would only increase.

A 70-page report on the issue, titled The Ten-Dollar Talib and Women's Rights, warns that President Hamid Karzai's government may be willing to compromise on women's rights as part of any deal with the insurgents.

"Afghan women want an end to the conflict. But as the prospect of negotiations with the Taliban draws closer, many women fear that they may also pay a heavy price for peace," the report says.

"Reconciliation with the Taliban, a group synonymous with misogynous policies and the violent repression of women, raises serious concerns about the possible erosion of recently gained rights and freedoms," it adds.

The Human Rights Watch report documents cases where religious police gave harsh beatings to women they found to be inappropriately dressed and teenage girls were forbidden to attend school.(ANI)

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