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THE INDEX — December 4, 2009

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THE INDEX — December 2, 2009

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Federico Manfredi: A Cairo Moment for Kandahar

Last January, I argued on the pages of World Policy Journal that the United States should end its war against the Taliban and focus on Al-Qaeda instead. The Obama administration should negotiate directly with the moderate factions of the Taliban movement, I said, offering them a gradual withdrawal of all foreign troops and greater political inclusion in exchange for the termination of all their ties to Al-Qaeda. In March President Obama declared himself willing to negotiate with Taliban moderates, and since then, the notion that the Taliban do not pose a direct threat to the United States has slowly begun to sink in. Last week a senior White House official said that President Obama sees a role for the Taliban in Afghanistan’s future. Meanwhile, the Afghan Taliban said in a statement that they have “no intention of harming other countries” and that they are fighting solely “for the independence of Afghanistan.” Obama should continue this conversation because it could potentially split the Taliban movement along the lines of moderates and radicals. This would make it much easier for the United States to engage the former while isolating the latter. A major impediment to dialogue is that many Afghans remain cynical and deeply conflicted about U.S. policy in the region. A political analyst from Kandahar (whose assessments are generally sound and often prescient) recently told me that he believes that the United States wants to establish a permanent military presence in Afghanistan to keep China out of Central Asia. He also reiterated the oft-repeated Pashtun complaint that the United States is propping up a puppet government made up of Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks to sideline the Pashtun people, ensuring that Afghanistan remains weak and divided. Obama must dispel these myths once and for all, and the best way to go about this delicate task would be for him to give a speech in Kandahar.

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