Amid Violence, Governments Grapple With Taliban Talks

BY Larisa Epatko  February 10, 2010 at 5:00 PM EST

As U.S. drones continue to target al-Qaida allied militants in Pakistan, and international forces seek to stamp out Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan, U.S. and Afghan officials are trying to develop ways to engage moderate elements of the Taliban to bring an end to the eight-year conflict there.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has talked about reconciling with former Taliban leaders for years. Karzai renewed his call at a donors conference in London at the end of January, where he described a plan to reward Taliban members who renounce violence with jobs and other support.

He also pledged to create a peace council, or jirga, to mobilize the talks, but the Taliban have said they don’t want to deal with the Afghan government.

U.S. officials have come out in support of engaging the Taliban and reintegration efforts as long as they involve low-level Taliban members who are not ideologically committed to the insurgency.

Meanwhile, a report in Tuesday’s New York Times says Pakistani Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani told top U.S. military officials at a NATO conference last month that his country was willing to mediate talks with the Taliban in Pakistan, marking a shift in Pakistan’s previous stance in dealing with the Taliban.

During a reporting trip to Afghanistan last year, our partners at GlobalPost met with several former Taliban officials, including the former foreign minister of the Taliban, Pakistani ambassador for the Taliban, minister of higher education, and the U.N. representative to the Taliban. Read more about the former officials in this “Profiles of the Taliban” feature.

GlobalPost’s executive editor Charles Sennott describes the different opinions he encountered from the former Taliban officials, ranging from openness to negotiations and a positive take on results to an outright rejection of the talks, in this Aug. 14 interview:

There’s also a NewsHour lesson plan to help teachers and students explore the positions of moderate and “irreconcilable” Taliban in the future of Afghanistan.

Tonight on the NewsHour: Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan under President George W. Bush, and Michael Semple, the European Union’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan from 2004 to 2007, discuss the new push to talk to the Taliban.