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Taliban Makes Good On Threats To Disrupt Jirga
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Taliban Makes Good On Threats To Disrupt Jirga

Afghanistan

Taliban Makes Good On Threats To Disrupt Jirga

Taliban Makes Good On Threats To Disrupt Jirga
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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has convened an assembly of tribal leaders and others to discuss a plan to reach out to the Taliban. Police say a suicide bomber detonated explosives a few hundred yards from the tent where 1,600 delegates are gathered in Kabul. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in the Afghan capital.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

A national peace conference that began in Afghanistan today has been anything but peaceful. The gathering under a traditional tent of hundreds of elders and religious leaders had barely begun when it came under fire from rockets. There were also three attempted suicide bombings. What's known as a peace jirga was called by President Hamid Karzai. It's been dismissed by the Taliban, which has threatened to kill anyone who attends.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson was at the conference, and she joined us from Kabul. Good morning.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And, Soraya, the conference itself - the peace conference sounds like one of the more dangerous places to be today.

NELSON: Yes. It felt very much like my embed earlier this year in Marjah - for a few hours there, anyway. We had rockets flying overhead. You heard gunfire as the security forces were trying to stop militants who were coming in.

MONTAGNE: So give us a little description of what's going on, and what President Karzai is or has been hoping to accomplish with this peace conference.

NELSON: Well, there's a big chance - you have 1,600 delegates from around Afghanistan. A fifth of them are women. And they're here to try and come up with what they're describing as a mechanism to talk to Taliban, to get the fighters to lay down their weapons and to, in fact, reintegrate into society.

Now, the president has said that he's not trying to push an agenda, that, in fact, it'll be up to the delegates at the jirga to come up with a plan. But what we're also hearing from other sources is that, in fact, there are some ideas that he has that he's hoping to get some sort of approval for from this delegation.

That would include vocational training and teaching Taliban to read and write -fighters who would agree to lay down their weapons and to respect the Afghan government and the Afghan constitution, as well as reaching out to the higher levels of leadership, by offering things like amnesty or perhaps exile in a country - Saudi Arabia has been mentioned as one.

So these are some of the ideas that are expected to be discussed by these delegates, who are going to be breaking up into about 30 groups for the next day and a half to discuss these matters.

MONTAGNE: How is it precisely supposed to work? That is, how much power do these elders have? How much can they actually do in three days?

NELSON: Well, if you ask Afghans on the street, no one is expecting much out of this, just because these people don't have any kind of legislative power or anything of that sort. And some of the more cynical people that you talk to will say that this is President Karzai using this body to try and legitimize himself after the very difficult and fraudulent elections that were going on this past year. And so it's unclear exactly what they can come up with.

I know that the U.N. special envoy, Stefan de Mistura, he says that the most important thing that can come out of this is a sign of unity, that basically, you need to have dialogue between all these different groups from around Afghanistan. And even though Pashtuns are overrepresented - of course, Pashtuns are the largest minority here, and President Karzai and the Taliban belong to that ethnic group - the feeling is that there still are people from all over the country.

And so if they can come together and have a discussion about who are the bad guys, who are the good guys, how can you reach out to some of the bad guys and turn them into good guys, and just sort of coming out with a message of peace, that might go a long way to making Afghans feel better about themselves and their livelihoods right now.

MONTAGNE: Why has the Taliban, though, then, been so vehement in opposing this conference, when it would seem to be an opportunity to talk?

NELSON: Because the Taliban leadership has made it clear that they don't want to have negotiations or conversation, or make any kind of concessions while there are still Western troops in Afghanistan. And so the Taliban, they feel that their main condition has not been met. They have to show themselves defiant. The militants do believe they are winning this war, and there is certainly is some evidence - that even NATO will acknowledge - that they are having successes in a lot of the remote areas, and increasingly so.

It's a difficult time to try and pull in fighters and say lay down your weapons when they feel that they're being successful.

MONTAGNE: Soraya, thanks very much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: We've been talking with NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, in Kabul.

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