In Kabul, First Hints Of Reconciliation Efforts

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his government is involved in direct talks with the Taliban and the U.S., but the Taliban denies it. Is the Taliban really willing to engage in reconciliation? Host Rachel Martin speaks with NPR's Quil Lawrence in Kabul.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For more now on the promise and pitfalls of a political solution in Afghanistan, we turn to Quil Lawrence, NPR's Kabul bureau chief.

Hi, Quil.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So, we just heard Ambassador Marc Grossman say that Afghanistan is a much different place than it was a decade ago; that women have far more rights than they did under the Taliban; that the number of kids in school now is exponentially higher than it has ever been; and that the country is unlikely to shift back to the way things were under Taliban rule.

Our Afghans so confident that this is the case?

LAWRENCE: I think most Afghans would agree with the first part of that statement. Certainly women's rights and development and health and children in school and number of schools is much, much better. That said, the insurgency in the countryside has been on an upward swing for most of the last five years.

Whether it's impossible for things to shift back, I think if you sit down and talk with Afghans, they'll tell you it seems very difficult that the Taliban should be able to retake areas like Kabul, which have grown enormously - all of the urban areas. At the same time, they'll tell me that's their number one fear. And I know many Afghans think this year, more than any year in the past, who are immigrating, who are trying to find a way out of the country, they're afraid that the Taliban is a stronger than the Karzai government that has been set up.

MARTIN: Does that mean, Quil, that Afghans really can't see a role for the Taliban in some kind of negotiated peace? Does the very idea that the Afghan government would reconcile with the Taliban, does that make them uneasy?

LAWRENCE: It makes them uneasy because they don't know what's going on. People recognize here that the Taliban are not some foreign force; they're organic to Afghanistan. Much of the south, especially in the rural areas, they live in a way that is not much different from the way the Taliban would rule.

But they're afraid that the peace deal going on might be giving away too many concessions to the Taliban without consulting them, especially in the north areas that oppose the Taliban and were repressed under the Taliban. And they're very worried that someone might sign a deal and that they won't have had any say in it, and that the terms will be unacceptable.

MARTIN: This past week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai did confirm that his government is involved in direct talks with the Taliban and the United States on some kind of reconciliation. The Taliban then shot this down publicly, said it's not happening.

Quil, when Afghans talk about what a peaceful reconciliation would look like, how do they describe it?

LAWRENCE: Well, many Afghans are willing to see the Taliban or elements of the Taliban come into a government as long as they respect the gains that have been made. Some of them actually looking at the corruption that they see in President Karzai's government are actively preferring the law and order that they had under the Taliban. But they don't want to go back to what some of them called the dark ages of the Taliban, when there was no television and no mobile phones and no contact with the outside world.

They're willing to let the Taliban back into the tent. Their main question is whether the Taliban have any intention of joining some sort of a pluralistic process. Or whether they're intent on taking over the country, which is what they did last time and what many of their statements seem to suggest.

MARTIN: NPR's Quil Lawrence in Kabul. Thanks so much, Quil.

LAWRENCE: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: You're listening to NPR News.

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