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Karzai: ‘The Afghan Taliban Are Welcome’

PBS’ Margaret Warner is in Afghanistan and interviewed President Hamid Karzai for last night’s edition of the NewsHour. The interview showed a disjointed performance — the 17,000 additional troops ordered to Afghanistan by President Obama are seven years “too late” but he “welcomes” their presence anyway — especially when it came to which elements of the insurgency Karzai considers reconcilable with his government. Warner asked about peeling off “moderate” Taliban:

The thousands of the Taliban who are now frightened into fighting us and their leaders after they surrendered the government to us went back and lived in their villages and their homes. A lot of them were intimidated and pushed away from their villages and homes unduly, wrongly.

They are not enemies of America. They’re not enemies of the rest of the world or of the Afghan people. They’re just countryside folks of a religious tendency that we have in Afghanistan. They’re not ideologically against what we are doing, and we must bring them back in order for us to have peace in this country.

Now, I would not categorize them precisely as moderate and non-moderate. I would characterize them as Afghans and non-Afghans. The Afghan Taliban are welcome.

Now, I would draw a further category here. And in the Afghan Taliban, those who are not with al-Qaida, those who are not part of any terrorist network, those who are not in the pay or grip of a foreign intelligence agency, and those who accept the Afghan constitution and the way of life that the Afghan people have voted for.

That last paragraph reads as if Karzai suddenly remembered that he had just veered way off his own government’s reconciliation course and suddenly jerked the steering wheel to drive back into his lane. Last month, his cabinet ministers told reporters in Washington that only mid-level Taliban commanders were suitable prospects for reconciliation. Senior leadership, unless they accept the Afghan constitution and essentially surrender, are not. Karzai got closer to that at the end, but his Afghan/non-Afghan distinction is entirely novel.

And understandable as well. Karzai’s facing an election this year amid both Afghan and U.S. antipathy. Why not appear like a peacemaker? Further along in the interview Karzai acknowledges that Mullah Omar has resisted every olive branch he’s offered, so it’s possible this is just a bit of cost-free posturing. Still, it’s getting harder to understand the Karzai government’s position on reconciliation.

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