STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Our colleague Renee Montagne is in Afghanistan as we approach the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Ten years after U.S. and other forces drove out the Taliban government, one of Afghanistan's biggest challenges turns out to be how to bring the Taliban back in. There is now a high peace council charged with reaching out to insurgent leaders to make them part of the government. Renee sat down with a man who has an insider's view of that effort. And, Renee, who is he?
RENEE MONTAGNE: Steve, the man is Umar Daudzai. He's Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan and also President Karzai's special envoy to that country. Of course, Pakistan, before September 11th, helped create the Taliban. He is Karzai's eyes and ears on the complex business of getting negotiations going.
INSKEEP: So, how did he get to be in this sensitive position?
MONTAGNE: Well, mainly because he is so close to President Karzai. He's considered his most trusted confidante. And as in the case of people with power here, his story is hardly straightforward. He's got a master's degree, spent years working with U.N. agencies. But also last year, he was involved in a controversy about his accepting cash from Iran for the presidential office. Seems to have gotten over that and is still very close to the president.
I joined Ambassador Daudzai at his house here in Kabul at a moment when everyone is talking about talks with the Taliban, including NATO and the international coalition.
Ambassador UMAR DAUDZAI (Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan): We are very happy that they now support reconciliation with Taliban - we didn't before. So, that's a change. With Taliban, our information about their structure and about their decision-making mechanism is not good enough. We don't really clearly know how it works within the Taliban, because Taliban is not a political entity; it's a purely militant entity. Sometimes you hear somebody as being an important commander one day, and the other day he's not. And then someday somebody from nowhere appears and becomes the most important commander. So, it's not a clear structure.
MONTAGNE: There's even been cases, rather well-known, of somebody who was, apparently, an impostor, who was taken seriously.
Amb. DAUDZAI: Correct. Correct. And that's also an indication that our information about the Taliban structure is not good enough. And the Taliban have no political face, so that we see them as a political entity, they don't have a political address.
MONTAGNE: But is not Mullah Omar - who may be the biggest name in America outside of Osama bin Laden - is not Mullah Omar the political face and the leader who is reachable as a real person of the Taliban?
Amb. DAUDZAI: He was their supreme leader when Taliban were in power in Kabul. And now, they do say that he's still the leader, but we don't know. I can't say for quite sure that if all decisions are made by Mullah Omar or if Mullah Omar is chairing a council that's making decisions.
MONTAGNE: But you would seem to be one of the people on this planet who has the best information about the Taliban structure. Do you have some evidence that he isn't the actual person in control?
Amb. DAUDZAI: You don't see his picture, like you'll see picture of Osama bin Laden speaking. You don't see picture of Mullah Omar speaking. We don't even hear his audio voice.
MONTAGNE: Could he be sick or dead?
Amb. DAUDZAI: My current information is that he is not dead, and he is not sick. But it's a question of to what extent is he making the decision, alone. The most powerful people in the Taliban structure are the most active, the cruelest of their commanders. The one who causes more damage to Afghan government and United States, they are the most powerful, when it comes to the power of decision-making.
MONTAGNE: So, the cruelest might be the younger and less open to negotiation?
Amb. DAUDZAI: The most cruelest and the youngest, that are not exposed to global politics. They may be even more difficult to reconcile, which would be bad news, which is bad news.
MONTAGNE: Well, then that doesn't seem to be too hopeful for talks if somebody at your level and with your knowledge sees the Taliban as something of a mystery.
Amb. DAUDZAI: Yes. Well, when you talk about success, it doesn't only come to a reconciliation process. We have other ways also. We don't only follow the path of reconciliation. We follow the path of regional collaboration, regional coordination with countries in the region, and also we pursue the military line also. We don't give up on that. So, reconciliation is one of the three pillars of our strategy for success.
MONTAGNE: Speaking about the region gets us to Pakistan. Pakistan has never gone after the Afghanistan Taliban leadership that's thought to be in its country, and while they've denied it, there's lots of evidence that that's the case. Where does Pakistan today stand in all of this? Does it have any motivation at this point in time to aid in the reconciliation of the Taliban with the Afghanistan government?
Amb. DAUDZAI: I can only tell you what I have picked up from reading the Pakistani mind. Pakistan wants a friendly government in Afghanistan. We need to convince them that there are other ways to ensure friendliness of an Afghan administration towards Pakistan, without even Taliban. You don't have to bring Taliban to Kabul to make sure that Afghan administration is friendly towards you.
MONTAGNE: What are you saying would be a good reason for doing this?
Amb. DAUDZAI: There are many ways that we discuss with the government of Pakistan. One, we always remind them that five, six years ago there were no Pakistani Taliban. And now there are Pakistani Taliban. And there is Pakistani Taliban because there is conflict in Afghanistan. So, we are trying to convince them that prolongation of the conflict would not remain limited to Afghanistan.
MONTAGNE: So the danger to Pakistan...
Amb. DAUDZAI: It's a danger to Pakistan. So, we are reminding them from that point of view. We are also telling them that we are trying our best to understand your legitimate interests in Afghanistan. We are trying to understand - and your legitimate concerns in Afghanistan, we are trying to understand - which is basically economic, which is access towards Central Asia through Afghanistan, which we share that interest - that's an advantage for us, too. But to say that we have reached to the stage that we have convinced them to cooperate with us, to encourage Taliban, to go for reconciliation talks with us, we are not yet there, but I am fairly optimistic that we will get there, inshallah.
MONTAGNE: Is there any reconciliation possible without Pakistan having a big hand in that?
Amb. DAUDZAI: No, it's not possible. And I would rather say, without their general and sincere support, we will not achieve any result.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for having us and for taking the time.
Amb. DAUDZAI: My pleasure.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: Umar Daudzai is President Karzai's special envoy to Pakistan. I spoke with him at his home in Kabul.
INSKEEP: And Renee continues reporting from Afghanistan tomorrow.
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