With­out bin Laden, Tal­iban may talk peace

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ASHISH KU­MAR SEN

Osama bin Laden’s death in a U.S. com­mando raid could shock Tal­iban mil­i­tants, who once shel­tered the al Qaeda leader, into peace talks with the Afghan gov­ern­ment, ac­cord­ing to Afghanistan’s am­bas­sador in Wash­ing­ton.

In an in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Times, Am­bas­sador Eklil Hakimi also urged the White House to re­sist calls to with­draw U.S. troops from Afghanistan pre­ma­turely and warned that al Qaeda is still a threat.

Killing bin Laden should be a “good les­son” for the Tal­iban, Mr. Hakimi said.

“[Bin Laden’s death] cre­ated the hope for lead­er­ship of the Tal­iban to join the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and rein­te­gra­tion process,” he added.

Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai has set three con­di­tions for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of Tal­iban mil­i­tants: They must lay down their arms, re­nounce al Qaeda and re­spect the Afghan Con­sti­tu­tion. The rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process has had lim­ited suc­cess.

Over the May 7-8 week­end, the Tal­iban claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for at least six sui­cide bombers, who killed four peo­ple and in­jured dozens in Kanda- har, the sec­ond-largest city in Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai said the at­tack was “re­venge” for bin Laden’s death.

How­ever, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. James B. Laster, a spokesman for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, said the vi­o­lence “clearly was in­tended to be a spring of­fen­sive spec­tac­u­lar at­tack.”

Bin Laden’s death has prompted calls from some in Congress for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to ac­cel­er­ate its with­drawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

“I think there’s go­ing to be a lot of strong feel­ing on the part of most Democrats and many [. . . ] and even some Repub­li­cans that the de­ci­sion of the pres­i­dent to re­duce the num­ber of troops in Afghanistan should be a ro­bust re­duc­tion,” Sen. Carl Levin, Michi­gan Demo­crat and chair­man of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, said ear­lier this month.

Pres­i­dent Obama has com­mit­ted to start­ing a troop with­drawal in July.

Mr. Hakimi urged the ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­sist the temp­ta­tion to aban­don Afghanistan, as Wash­ing­ton did af­ter U.S.-backed rebels de­feated a Soviet oc­cu­pa­tion army in 1989.

He also noted that Afghanistan be­came less im­por- tant to the United States af­ter U.S. at­ten­tion shifted to Iraq in 2003. U.S. forces top­pled the Tal­iban, when it re­fused to give up bin Laden af­ter the al Qaeda leader planned the 2001 ter­ror­ist at­tacks on the World Trade Cen­ter and the Pen­tagon.

“We all wit­nessed the conse- quences of those de­ci­sions,” he said.

Mr. Hakimi de­scribed bin Laden as a “sym­bolic leader” and warned that al Qaeda re­mains ac­tive de­spite his death.

“At the end of the day, we will come to the con­clu­sion that get­ting only a sym­bolic leader with­out deal­ing with the [ter­ror­ist] net­work is some­thing that we should be care­ful about,” Mr. Hakimi said.

“We want to stress, the job is not done yet,” he added.

Michael Sem­ple, a fel­low at the Carr Cen­ter for Hu­man Rights Pol­icy at Har­vard Kennedy School of Gov­ern­ment, said he has heard from many mem­bers of the Tal­iban who now say they doubt the wis­dom of pro­long­ing their mil­i­tary cam­paign against the U.S.led coali­tion in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden’s death is “prompt­ing a re­assess­ment in the Tal­iban of the long-term vi­a­bil­ity of their mil­i­tary strat­egy, which was, broadly, to ride out the U.S. mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion,” he said.

“They would like to see a po­lit­i­cal way of mov­ing for­ward, and they will see [bin Laden’s death] as an op­por­tu­nity,” said Mr. Sem­ple, who served as the deputy to the Euro­pean Union’s en­voy to Afghanistan from 2004 un­til 2007.

Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton told a gather­ing of editorial writers that bin Laden’s death “opens pos­si­bil­i­ties for deal­ing with the Tal­iban that did not ex­ist be­fore.”

The al Qaeda leader was killed May 2 in an early morn­ing raid on his hide-out in Ab­bot­tabad, a gar­ri­son town 30 miles from the Pak­istani cap­i­tal, Islamabad. The com­pound in which bin Laden had been hid­ing is lo­cated less than a mile from the Pak­istan Mil­i­tary Academy, Kakul, Pak­istan’s equiv­a­lent of West Point.

Mr. Hakimi said he was not sur­prised to learn that bin Laden had been liv­ing in Pak­istan. He said he thinks that bin Laden’s deputy, Ay­man al-Zawahri, is also out­side Afghanistan.

“It proves the po­si­tion of Afghanistan for years and years that the safe havens and lead­er­ship of al Qaeda and other ter­ror­ist net­works are out­side Afghanistan,” he said.

“We Afghans know our coun­try and re­gion bet­ter and ex­pect our in­ter­na­tional friends and al­lies to lis­ten to us.”

The Afghan Tal­iban lead­er­ship is de­pen­dent on the same safe havens in Pak­istan on which bin Laden re­lied.

“I be­lieve that ev­ery Tal­iban leader in the past few days has been think­ing, ‘Who’s next?’ “ Mr. Sem­ple said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

An Afghan po­lice­man on May 8 runs to take up a po­si­tion on a rooftop against Tal­iban fight­ers hid­ing in a gov­ern­ment build­ing from which smoke is ris­ing in Kan­da­har dur­ing the sec­ond day of a ma­jor as­sault.

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