RAY SUAREZ: Is that assessment, what you just said, the kind of thing that's leading people to talk openly about opening up channels to the Taliban?
JOHN BURNS: It is, but I think we need to be very wary of that. Of course, if you could engage the Taliban in serious negotiations and bring this war to an end by those talks, nobody would oppose them. But at the moment, they haven't even had talks about talks.
There's a lot of talk here and amongst diplomats about the need for talks. There are some very preliminary sorts of encounters, none of them substantial or substantive.
The problem is this: The Taliban are, in fact, a divided organization to an extent. There are fissures within the Taliban. There are elements in the Taliban that are more militantly Islamist than others. There are other elements which are more nationalist and Islamist.
There are fissures which go back to the old Mujahedeen struggle against the Soviet occupation, rivalries between different commanders, all of this is true.
But those rivalries and those fissures tend to lead in the direction of more radicalism, that's to say, people who, if they start outbidding each other within the Taliban on this issue, they'd like to outbid each other in terms not of more accommodation towards the negotiation and towards some settlement of this war, but to more militant positions.
And there's still the dominant -- at least ideological figure within the Taliban is Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban, the man who as much as any founded the Taliban (inaudible) bin Laden, and who continues to declare on militant Islamist Web sites that he remains at one with al-Qaida. So that doesn't seem very promising to me.
RAY SUAREZ: What if you get out into the villages? What do people who have lived with the Taliban and, in some cases, suffered with the Taliban think about those kinds of ideas?
JOHN BURNS: Well, there's some of the good news. I didn't travel very widely, but I did get outside of Kabul and I did go into villages. I went into a number of villages which had been destroyed by the Taliban shortly after they came to power in Kabul.
And there and elsewhere, I found the same truth. And, by the way, it's essentially the same truth that we found in a like circumstance in Iraq, and that is to say, there are not demands for the withdrawal of American or NATO troops. Quite the contrary.
People who lived under the Taliban, like people who lived under Saddam Hussein, do not want to go back to that brutality and repression. They want security. Above all, they want security. And they recognize that that is not likely to come by a drawdown or a retreat of foreign forces.
So the notion that a foreign force is doomed to fail in Afghanistan, as we can see from history you could make that argument, I think is in this case not applicable.
They want security. They want a little bit more, if you will, moderation in some ways -- sometimes in the application of American and other NATO firepower. I'm talking about civilian casualties from bombings. That's true.
But, above all, what those people seem to want is they're very disappointed that their lives did not improve in terms of their standard of living, especially because of the years of drought. Food is very much more expensive.
And the common complaint in those villages is that they are worse off now than they were five or six, seven years ago. That's going to be a difficult thing to turn around, an expensive thing to turn around. And all the more difficult for the fact that so much of the hinterland in Afghanistan, most of it, indeed, south of the Hindu Kush, where the Pashtun tribes...
RAY SUAREZ: I'm sorry, I have to break in here.
JOHN BURNS: ... predominate.
RAY SUAREZ: But thanks a lot for talking to us. Good to talk to you again. John Burns with us.
JOHN BURNS: Thank you very much.