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Most Afghans would accept talks with Taliban, survey says

Support is down for insurgency after years of war

Analysts believe that the toll of war has left some Afghans willing to sacrifice some freedoms for the sake of peace. Analysts believe that the toll of war has left some Afghans willing to sacrifice some freedoms for the sake of peace. (Altaf Qadri/Associated Press)
By Katharine Houreld
Associated Press / November 10, 2010

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Nearly all Afghans want their government to make peace with the Taliban despite their growing dislike for the insurgency, according to a survey funded in part by the US government.

The survey released yesterday by the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation found that 83 percent of Afghan adults back negotiations with armed antigovernment groups, up from 71 percent last year. But it also said 55 percent of Afghans had no sympathy for the insurgency this year, up from 36 percent last year. Twenty-six percent of respondents said they had “a little sympathy’’ for the aims of the insurgency.

Analysts said the survey reflected growing doubt that the government and its NATO allies can defeat the insurgency with military means and that after 30 years of war, some Afghans are willing to sacrifice some freedoms for the sake of peace.

“The prospects for peace here in Afghanistan are very difficult,’’ said Haroun Mir, director of the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies, a Kabul-based think tank. “People remember the brutality of the time of Taliban rule, but they feel they have no other options. They would rather have a government that is part Taliban than all Taliban.’’

He added that “we don’t have a hope for a stable democracy in Afghanistan anymore.’’

After nearly 10 years, NATO’s military commitment is not open-ended and President Hamid Karzai has made reconciliation a top priority. He has offered jobs and housing to the villages of Taliban fighters who defect, and recently formed a 70-member High Peace Council to facilitate negotiations. The government and NATO say contacts are being made with top insurgent leaders but no formal peace talks are underway.

The Taliban have repeatedly denied that any of their top leaders are talking with the government.

“We know the Afghan people support our peace initiative,’’ said Hamed Elmi, deputy presidential spokesman. “This year’s survey has more positive findings.’’

Almost twice as many women — 20 percent — as men oppose reconciliation efforts, possibly reflecting their fear that a future government that included the Taliban would seek to curtail women’s freedoms.

More than three-quarters of respondents said they felt corruption was a major problem in Afghanistan, and it was rated the third-biggest problem after insecurity and unemployment.

Only about a third of Afghans thought the police and army could operate without foreign help, highlighting potential difficulties for achieving Karzai’s goal of having Afghan security forces take the lead for protecting the nation by 2014.

Meanwhile, Afghan security forces yesterday arrested a member of the deadly Haqqani network and three other associates after ordering the plane flying him to Saudi Arabia to return to the capital, NATO said.

Coalition forces also arrested a senior Taliban leader in charge of the Marjah district in Helmand Province, a statement said.

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