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Bruised by war, many Afghans mull reconciliation
KABUL (Reuters) - Qudsia cries as she describes how the Taliban shot her husband in the head and stomach 13 years ago. But like a growing number of Afghans, she says talking peace to the insurgents may be an idea whose time has come.
"If peace can be made then it's a good thing," the 51-year-old mother of six said. "But if it does not, it is meaningless."
After a nine-year U.S.-led war with no clear victory in sight, there are signs many Afghans, including victims of the Taliban's 1996-2001 rule, are increasingly tempted by the idea of talking peace with the hardline Islamists.
President Hamid Karzai is organizing a national peace council, or "jirga," from May 29 to bring together tribal elders, officials and local powerbrokers from around the country to discuss peace, despite the Taliban rejecting any overtures.
Reconciliation will also be high on the agenda when Karzai meets President Barack Obama in Washington this week.
Sayed Arabshah Arabshahi is a Kabul university professor whose 26-year-old brother was lashed to death with a wire cable by the Taliban.
"Essentially I'm not against talking with the Taliban if it will mean peace," Arabshahi said on the sidelines of a "Victim's Jirga" organized by civil society groups in Afghanistan, as an alternative to the one planned by the government.
It is a course that is already underscoring differences between Kabul and Washington. The United States has been cautious about any peace overtures as it prepares an offensive against the Taliban stronghold in Kandahar. The White House opposes efforts to contact Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
But many Afghans feel the United States may already be preparing to leave after Obama announced a July 2011 start for a troop withdrawal.
"The U.S. has said it will withdraw, and the Afghans have realized that if we have to deal with each other, we might as well as start talking about it now," said Hashmat Ghani Ahmadzai, an Afghan analyst and politician.
JUSTICE BEFORE PEACE
Other "jirga" attendees favored talking with insurgent groups, but were adamant that justice had to be served first to civilians in order for a political process to gain traction.
It is a difference of opinion that will likely be thrashed out at the jirga.
"We cannot go toward peace without justice," said 48-year-old Dr. Sharif, who like Qudsia and many Afghans, goes by only one name. Sharif was arrested, beaten and electrocuted after the Soviet-backed coup in Afghanistan in 1978.
Sharif referred to a recent visit by a delegation of insurgent faction Hizb-e-Islami, one of the main non-Taliban insurgent groups, to Kabul for talks.
"I couldn't believe this. They didn't even say sorry when they were here," Sharif said.
Haji Mohammad Anwar is a 62-year old shopkeeper from the eastern province of Maidan Wardak. His 23-year-old son was captured and killed, along with four other men, by the Taliban because they were Hazara, an ethnic minority in Afghanistan.
"(The Taliban) told them to run up a hill and as they went, they shot them ... I've never found his body," Mohammad said. "Anyone who cooperates or works with those people has the blood of martyrs on their hands," Mohammad said.
"Not all Taliban are bad, some of them are good, I don't have a problem with them ... But I just want the government to bring those people who killed innocent people to justice."
One person who is resolute in her belief that no insurgent faction should be engaged is 18-year-old Sediqa from Kabul.
When she was a little girl, shrapnel from a Hizb-e-Islami rocket that hit her home entered her back. After surgery in Germany she returned to Kabul only for her home to be destroyed in another rocket attack.
In the second attack her mother, two brothers and her great aunt were killed.
"I don't want them to anytime talk with (insurgents)," Sediqa, who walks with a limp, said. "I used to have hopes and wishes, to help my country and work for my country, but those hopes have turned to dust."
(Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Megan Goldin)
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