Taliban ‘ready to share power’ in Afghanistan

Two veteran Taliban fighters surrender themselves to the Afghan government © Getty Images

After more than a decade at war with invading NATO forces, Afghanistan’s hardline Islamists are willing to see some foreign forces remain, and to sever links with al Qaeda’s terrorists.

Moderate members of Islamist movement the Taliban have raised hopes of an end to the continuing bloodshed in Afghanistan, where they held power until ousted in an invasion by Western troops in October 2001.

The Taliban government once gave protection and support to leaders of al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, while they masterminded terrorist outrages. But now, in a report published this week, a group of Taliban negotiators and former ministers has said that they ‘deeply regret’ their involvement with the global jihadists. In return for being part of a peace process that could see them share power, they told researchers from the Royal United Services Institute that leaders of the insurgency are prepared to offer a ceasefire and would be willing to make extraordinary concessions.

These include: accepting that some US military might remain long term in the country; severing links with al Qaeda and even helping track and capture operatives; and revising many of their longstanding policies, such as their opposition to education for girls. But neither Hamid Karzai, the current President, nor the constitution set up to rebuild a new, lasting state after the war, are acceptable to the Taliban leadership, the sources say.

Both the American and British governments have pledged to end the occupation of Afghanistan and bring home the bulk of the NATO troops by 2014, with the last combat troops from Britain out by 2015.

This deadline was set because of pressure from electorates weary of hearing every week about more lives sacrificed for a campaign that has dragged on so long and seems to have so little to show for it.

Recent months have seen the security situation worsen. Bombings are frequent. Foreign troops and policing experts sent out to make the Afghans ready for the handover of power get shot by their trainees. So the prospect of finding some common ground with the Taliban seems like a glimmer of light in an otherwise grimly dark picture.

The price of peace

America and her NATO allies have spent the years since the al Qaeda terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 demonising the Taliban. Pointing to their terrible record on abusing the human rights of fellow Afghans, for example their violent attacks on girls’ schools and on ordinary Afghans who dance or listen to music, Western governments have told the world that the Taliban are beyond the pale.

Now, these former enemies may have to become partners. Is it right to compromise this far? Some will argue for a continuation of international control, even in the form of unstable puppet administrations. Others ask, how could we reject any offer that saves lives?

You Decide

  1. ‘It is never acceptable to do a deal with terrorists or human rights abusers.’ Do you agree?
  2. Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defense under President George W Bush, famously said ‘we don’t do nation-building’. Can and should invaders leave without leaving a stable peace behind?


  1. Afghanistan is a very beautiful country, blighted by decades of war. Make a drawing or painting, or select the best photographs you can find, to illustrate aspects of the landscape, history and conflict.
  2. Research the origins of the Taliban, their beliefs and practices. Make a presentation to the class.

Some People Say...

“Afghanistan will always be at war.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m confused. The West wants troops out and now the Afghans want them to stay?
In a limited capacity. The new report suggests US troops at a few camps, remaining to track down terrorists and help enforce any new peace settlement. But it is ironic: after 11 years the invaders struggle to leave and the insurgents have decided some of them can stay.
Why does this affect me?
NATO’s original justification for war was that the 9/11 attacks on America had been plotted from terrorist bases in the country, where enemies of the West were treated as privileged guests. So-calledfailed states like Afghanistan tend to export chaos to the rest of us. So making a long-term peace there matters to us all.

Word Watch

Taliban government
Although only three other nations recognised the Taliban administration, which controlled much of Afghanistan from 1996 to the NATO invasion in October 2001, they set up an Islamic Emirate with a harsh regime. Women were not allowed to work or be educated; music was banned; thieves were punished with amputations.
Beyond the pale
A phrase used to describe something or someone completely unacceptable. Originally, the pale was a boundary marking off the limits of territory that fell under British law during the Empire.
Failed states
Nations where government is not in charge and the rule of law has collapsed.
Puppet administrations
Governments that are set up by and accountable to an outside power. A disparaging term.
Royal United Services Institute
A London-based think tank specialising in defence and security issues.
Islamists committed to armed warfare against those they see as the enemies of Islamic rule.


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