Taliban may be eyeing role in Afghan politics again

Kabul, Sept.14 (ANI): Taliban leaders are apparently nurturing hopes of rebuilding their political clout in Kabul, according to a top United Nations envoy and some Afghan politicians.

"Any indication that they're moving from bullets to ballots, as imperfect as it might be, is a good indicator," the Washington Post quoted Staffan de Mistura, a former top U.N. representative in Iraq, and now in Afghanistan, as saying.

De Misturasaid said Afghanistan's insurgent leaders could be trying to bolster their political standing in anticipation of a reconciliation process that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is hoping to jump-start this fall.

"That's exactly the type of thing that happened in Iraq at a certain point," de Mistura said, referring to the period after the 2007 U.S. troop surge, when political factions with armed wings started putting more stock in deal-making than in fighting.

He said: "People started discussing, arguing, compromising, negotiating, making deals on a political level, using the political game plan rather than bombs and explosions. In that sense, these elections could be helpful."

However, Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, said there was little evidence that the Taliban's leadership is interested in playing a formal role in the political system at this point in time.

"They've come out strongly against the election," she said, adding, "They didn't have to. They could have been more ambiguous."

She said any overtures might speak to the evolution of local politics, rather than a softening of the Taliban's position on Afghanistan's U.S.-backed democratic system.

Meanwhile, Saturday's parliamentary election is being seen as a crucial milestone that could restore - or dash - Afghans' faith in the democratic system that was established after the Taliban was driven from power nine years ago.

Many Afghans have come to see the government as a corrupt oligarchy with little reach outside the capital - a view reinforced by last year's fraud-tainted presidential election.

More than 2,500 candidates - 406 of them female - are running for 249 seats. Campaigning has unfolded amid rising violence.

Daoud Sultanzoy, a member of parliament from the violence-ridden province of Ghazni said Taliban leaders have shown an unprecedented level of interest in the political process in the run-up to this election.

"It's not an emphatic endorsement of the process yet, but there are gestures suggesting they want to be on both sides. They're keeping their military options open and gently feeling their way into the political system, opening their horizons and seeing what's there," he said.

International election experts and Afghan politicians say that reaching deals with insurgents is the only way some candidates are able to campaign in Taliban-controlled districts.

"The election has no credibility in the eye of the common man in spite of the fact that the Americans have spent or are spending large amounts of money and campaigns to bribe people are in full swing," the Taliban said in a statement translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Karzai is attempting to reach a negotiated truce with the Taliban, an effort the government hopes will gain traction after the election.

De Mistura said he had a "hunch" the peace talks would start in earnest between November and December.

"Everybody is getting tired. The Taliban are also getting tired and they know they will never win the war. They realize that," he said. (ANI)

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