Wary Afghans mull possible Taliban peace talks
KABUL (Reuters) - Like many Afghans, shopkeeper Abdul Sattar recalls Taliban rule as a nightmare of public executions, women shut away at home and evenings without TV, but he might accept some of it back for peace and stability.
With President Hamid Karzai reaching out to insurgents in a bid to broker peace talks, the Kabul businessman says he would support a deal returning Afghanistan's former hardline rulers to some measure of power if it brought an end to 10 years of war.
"The Taliban had some good rules and some bad rules," Sattar said at his stationery shop. "If the government talks to the Taliban and they accept just the good ones, then it could work."
As U.S. President Barack Obama and his NATO allies come under growing pressure at home over the unpopular war, the focus is increasingly turning to possible negotiations with insurgent leaders as a way out.
For some Kabul residents a negotiated settlement with the insurgents, who have steadily gathered strength in recent years, may be the lesser evil -- a way to rein in the most zealous of the movement's tendencies.
"If they come to Kabul with the gun, then no one can control them," carpenter Mohammad Kamel said of the Taliban in his run-down workshop. "Talks are the way and if the Taliban negotiate they won't be like they were in the past."
With crime and corruption rife in the capital, some Afghan businessmen even look back to the Taliban era as time when graft at least was under control.
Karzai has come under fire from critics for failing to keep corruption under control.
"This government doesn't care," said computer salesman Mohammad Mujtaba. "You would be worried with $1,000 in your pocket today, but with the Taliban you could have a box of cash and not be worried."
There are many outspoken opponents of talks. Civic rights and women's groups are already worried a peace deal will sacrifice justice and rights for a fragile peace and allow the Taliban's brand of fundamentalism to resurface.
Afghan women fear any return of Taliban influence will undermine their freedoms.
WHITE HOUSE BACKING
The White House backs Karzai's official line that reconciliation can only come if Taliban leaders renounce violence, break links with al Qaeda and respect Afghanistan's constitution, especially women's rights.
But most officials and diplomats involved in promoting talks, acknowledge that Karzai as well as the Taliban must make concessions, and a joint government would be more conservative.
Overthrown in 2001 by U.S.-backed Afghan forces, the Taliban ruled under austere laws that shuttered electronics shops, banned music, enforced long beards for men and demanded women wear the traditional head-to-toe burqa veils.
The chance for talks comes as the war against the Taliban enters its bloodiest year. More than 2,000 foreign troops have died since 2001, over half just in the last two years as the Taliban have enjoyed a military resurgence.
Views on a Taliban return reflect the experiences of Afghanistan's ethnic groups under the rule of a movement drawn from majority Pashtuns. Taliban chiefs often targeted minority ethnic groups such as Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks for repression.
"If they want to share government and it stops the war, why not?" said Hazara tailor Said Qurban. "The government won't let them come back with their ideas from the past I'm sure."
But a long history of failures to bring the Taliban to the talks table leaves many doubting Karzai's efforts, especially as some members of a peace council he has formed fought repeatedly with each other and the Taliban in the past.
"We don't know what the Taliban want now. The Taliban's ideas and Karzai's ideas are different, so talks will go nowhere," said Uzbek salesman Abdul Hameed. "Really we don't care about the government, we just want to get on with our business freely."
(Editing by Ron Popeski)
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