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US tilt towards Taliban irks Delhi
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

While New Delhi doesn’t see a distinction between so-called good and bad Taliban, Washington is committed to reaching out to moderate members of the Taliban, a US official said, reiterating a position that has become the cause of much concern in India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy for nuclear issues and climate change Shyam Saran told a Washington audience this week that there is little difference between Al-Qaida, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Saran said India’s “principal concern” was that Afghanistan should “not once again relapse into a hot bed of terrorism.”

However, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher, in an interview with the Dutch publication NRC Handelsblad, said: “Whether the Afghan government ends up negotiating with the Taliban ideologues, I think we will have to see. But in principle, the United States will support Afghan efforts to bring people to the side of government. To get them to stop fighting, stop the violence, stop the support of Al-Qaida, and support the government.”

Boucher said the Obama administration was interested in increasing the capabilities of the Afghan government. “As they stretch out, they are going to have to work with tribes in villages - some of whom have been working with the Taliban,” he said.

President Barack Obama is expected to reveal the results of an inter-agency review of policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday.

A group of senior Islamic clerics recently urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai to pursue a Saudi-led initiative to open talks with the Taliban. Saudi Arabia was one of three nations to recognise the Taliban government in Kabul prior to its fall in October 2001.

Noting that there was a “hard core of Taliban ideologues who want to impose their draconian rules on Afghan society”, Boucher said US troops would “probably end up fighting them.” But, he added, “there are a lot of people [as in different types of Taliban] - villagers, tribes, subtribes - who have fought with the Taliban, were associated with the Taliban because they felt coerced to work with them, had grievances with the government, or were in a rivalry with some other tribe — and as the Afghan government spreads around, I have to say, in my view this is (reconciliation with Taliban) principally an Afghan function which we can support.”

“The Afghans have to bring people to the government side. And we should definitely support that,” Boucher said, adding, “There may be some others who need resettlement — individuals who want to cross over.”

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