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RFE's Siddique Talks Taliban At Atlantic Council

Afghanistan -- Taliban militants stand, after voluntarily handing over their weapons and joining the government, in Sangin district of Helmand Province, 01Jan2011

RFE senior correspondent Abubakar Siddique recently participated in a fascinating discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council on "the future of negotiated settlement with the Taliban."

Think the Taliban are a Pakistani ISI creation? Looking for a detailed explanation of the factional cleavages amongst the ranks of the Taliban? Look no further than discussions led late last month by RFE senior correspondent Abubakar Siddique while speaking at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center in Washington, D.C.

Abubakar’s views on the Taliban, the American presence in the Middle East, and prospects for peace in the Af-Pak region – extrapolated in detail during the discussion – in many ways challenged conventional wisdom. “I think in Pakistan,” said Siddique, “we had unfortunately this mistake of indentifying all Pashtuns with political Islam. If you look at Pashtuns in the past century we had communist Pashtuns, we had Pashtuns in Kybher, and Pashtuns closely integrated in the Pakistani state." A significant proportion of Pashtuns, he noted, are secular.

With regard to the Taliban, Siddique feels that the stepped-up military presence of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) can prove to be contrary to the goal of a negotiated agreement "One of the disincentives for the Taliban is more boots on the ground, more soldiers, more night raids. It's also a huge disincentive for people to believe you." He maintains that ISAF attacks play into the notion of revenge - which is not limited to Pashtuns.

The most important group to negotiate with, Siddique explained, is the Kandahari Taliban, rather than any particular foreign influence. "Major reconciliation has to be with them. It would be wrong to think of the Taliban as a Pakistani creation."

In closing, Siddique discussed possible solutions to the conflict. “The people in Afghanistan are very clear on one thing. From Karzai down to everybody in Kabul, [they] will tell you the Americans are not here for charity; that they are here for their own interests. The solution in Afghanistan,” he concluded, “has to a center on Afghanistan.”

- Joseph Hammond