Asia Crisis

Obama's call on moderate Taliban useless - analysts

KABUL, March 9 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama's proposal to reach out to moderate Taliban will fail to end the Afghan insurgency as it is inflexible Taliban leaders who are orchestrating the war, not moderates, analysts said.

Obama, in an interview with the New York Times newspaper published on its website on Saturday, expressed an openness to adapting tactics in Afghanistan that had been used in Iraq to reach out to moderate elements there.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed Obama's proposal but analysts were doubtful.

"Obama's comment resemble a dream more than reality," said Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst who has written a book on the Taliban.

"Where are the so-called moderate Tal iban? Who are the moderate Taliban?" asked Mozhdah, who was an official in both the Taliban and the Karzai governments.

Karzai's pro-Western administration and the growing number of foreign forces in Afghanistan have increasingly come under attack from a resurgent Taliban, with Obama now describing Afghanistan as a top foreign policy priority for his new administration.

"'Moderate Taliban' is like 'moderate killer'. Is there such a thing?", asked writer and analyst Qaseem Akhgar.

Obama did point out that compared to Iraq the situation was more complex in Afghanistan, where nearly 70,000 foreign troops, 38,000 of them American, are due to be joined in coming months by another 17,000 U.S. soldiers.

The number of foreign troops in Afghanistan has risen steadily since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001 after they refused to hand over al Qaeda leaders responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

The level of violence has also risen, as the Taliban have stepped up their campaign to force out Western troops.

Some Western politicians and military officers now say the war cannot be won by military means alone and a solution will have to involve some form of reconciliation.


The key to ending Afghan violence lay in the hands of the Taliban leaders who are on a U.S. wanted list, Mozhdah said.

"Taliban leaders are behind the insurgency, not the so-called moderates. To put an end to the war, they have to be included in any talks, their views should be heard," Mozhdah said.

"Their names have to be removed from the list because they are the source of the crisis."

Pakistani analyst Rahimullah Yousufzai welcomed Obama's proposal to engage with moderates, saying the United States was finally coming around to the realisation there would be no military solution.

But he too was sceptical about the chances of negotiating with the Taliban who have shown no hint of compromise on their main demand -- that foreign troops get out.

"They would like to pacify some elements of the Taliban but I have my doubts about this," he said.

"The Taliban are very rigid in their demands. They actually don't want to talk unless there is some guarantee that Western forces will leave," he said.

Analysts said Obama's proposal to reach out to moderate Taliban was also aimed at splitting the movement, although Karzai has failed to do that with his repeated offers over recent years to engage with moderates.

"I don't foresee much change on the ground ... Over the last eight years, there have been very few Taliban defections," said Yousufzai.

"They have Mullah Omar as their leader. They have to approach Mullah Omar and as we all know he is very inflexible."

In Iraq, the use of Sunni Muslim community leaders to employ their people to patrol their neighbourhoods has been credited as one of the main reasons behind sharp falls in violence.

But Ahmad Saeedi, a former diplomat and analyst, said the tactic would not succeed in Afghanistan where arming militias would only become another headache for Kabul and the West.

Obama's call for reaching to moderate elements was aimed at appeasing European countries increasingly disillusioned with what looks like a war without end, ahead of a planned trip there, said Saeedi.

The United States needed to engage countries in the Afghanistan region and take on board their demands for solving Afghanistan's crisis, Saeedi said. (Editing by Robert Birsel and Jerry Norton)