Jan. 22 -- Senior Afghan Taliban leaders aren’t likely to agree to give up their insurgency until they see the momentum shift in favor of the government and international forces, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
“Reconciliation will come slowly,” Gates told reporters during a trip to neighboring Pakistan. “You will begin to see it, I suspect, on the part of local commanders and others in Afghanistan itself first.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the BBC he plans to offer Taliban fighters money and jobs to lure them back to normal life. The program will be funded by the international community, the BBC reported Karzai as saying. The U.S. and U.K. will back the proposal at a conference on Afghanistan’s future to be held in London on Jan. 28.
In response to one journalist who commented that it looked as if the Taliban are gaining strength and would end up as the next government of Afghanistan, Gates disagreed.
“I will wager a good deal that the Taliban will not be the next government in Kabul,” he said. Reconciliation with Taliban leaders and reintegration of lower-level fighters “has to be done in the terms set by the Afghan government.”
Terms would include adhering to the Afghan constitution, acknowledging the government as the sole military power in the country with no more warlords and participating in elections, he said. The Taliban as it ruled before, with violent intimidation and barring girls from school, created “a desert, culturally and every other way.”
“We have said all along, in Iraq as in Afghanistan, political reconciliation ultimately has to be a part of settling the conflict,” Gates said, citing similar comments he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made to the U.S. Congress. “The Taliban, we recognize, are part of the political fabric of Afghanistan at this point.”
The question is whether the Taliban “are ready to help build a 21st-century Afghanistan or whether they still just want to kill people,” Gates said.
As the U.S. escalates its fight against the Taliban and al- Qaeda, the Obama administration has been increasing pressure on Karzai to fight graft. Karzai will go into the London conference without a full cabinet in place after parliament twice rejected nominees that lawmakers deemed to be inexperienced or corrupt.
The U.S. is also urging neighboring Pakistan to extend its offensive against militants to include groups attacking international forces in Afghanistan.
Gates told reporters on the way to Islamabad that he wanted to hear about Pakistan’s plans to extend the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda into North Waziristan after “very successful military operations” that broke up a major Taliban haven to the south. No new offensive is imminent, said Pakistan’s military spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas.
U.S. officials say al-Qaeda leaders likely have holed up in ungoverned tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border since the U.S. toppled the group’s Taliban protectors in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Obama has ordered 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to battle the Taliban insurgency.
While wanting to see further action against Taliban fighters who attack U.S. troops, Gates respects the country’s sovereignty and will leave the pacing and details up to Pakistani leaders, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said yesterday.
Speaking to an audience of officers at Pakistan’s National Defense University in the capital Islamabad today, Gates expressed respect and sympathy for the losses the country has suffered as it fights militant extremists.
He lamented America’s “mistake” in pulling back from its alliance with Pakistan after the Soviet Union withdrew from neighboring Afghanistan. The militaries of the U.S. and Pakistan have “a lot to learn from each other on many issues,” Gates said, alluding to a rivalry with India that dominates Pakistan’s strategic thinking.
“The U.S. military has reshaped and reformed itself to meet new threats,” Gates said. “As all of you look to the future and assess the most likely threats to Pakistan, you will have to grapple with the same issues.”
Gates said yesterday that the U.S. is developing a new “multi-year military funding program” for Pakistan, without giving further details. Last year, Congress and President Barack Obama approved a bill to provide $1.5 billion a year in economic aid to the country.