Deal with the Taliban pragmatists — not the elusive ‘moderates’

Michael Semple, a fellow at the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, says that an attempt to cut a deal with the Taliban should not be conceived as an effort to peel away moderates:

The people with whom any deal would have to be done, those Taliban prepared to contemplate accommodation, have a sense of their movement as a moral force that emerged to fight anarchy and corruption in civil war Afghanistan in an honourable tradition of jihad. They are deeply suspicious of apparent US support for the commanders and warlords against whom they were pitted well before 2001. Reluctant to accept that it was the alliance with al-Qaeda which turned the world against them, they resent their labelling as terrorists. They have a host of grievances, from persecution of Taliban who stayed in Afghanistan to the Guantánamo experience and the United Nations blacklists, which they point to as evidence that neither the US nor the Kabul government can be trusted.

Nevertheless, Taliban pragmatists claim they have little problem with an eventual break from al-Qaeda, that they will accommodate other Afghan political forces and that their stance on social issues is unlikely to be a block to agreement. Quizzed on justice and impunity, they protest that their record is no worse than the current Kabul government. The pragmatists do not expect to renounce jihad but to redefine it. They will not surrender but they hope that the Taliban movement might be rehabilitated as a moral Islamic force inside the Afghan political system.

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