KABUL (AP) — The U.S. supports a proposal to lure fighters with no strong allegiance to terrorists away from the insurgency and reintegrate them into Afghan society, the American special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan said Sunday.
Richard Holbrooke said he talked with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday about a plan the government is crafting to offer jobs, vocational training and other economic incentives to tens of thousands of Taliban foot soldiers willing to switch sides after eight years of war.
“We completely support the program as it develops,” Holbrooke said. “The majority of the people fighting with the Taliban are not supporters of (Taliban leader) Mullah Omar. They’re not supporters of the ideology of al-Qaida. They don’t even know who al-Qaida is and yet they fight because they’ve been misled by false information.”
Holbrooke, who had a heated meeting last year with Karzai over the fraud-stained Afghan presidential election, spoke at town hall-style event in the Afghan capital of Kabul where about 40 academics, videographers, representatives from non-governmental organizations, radio broadcasters and others were invited to ask Holbrooke questions. Their inquiries ranged from questions about reintegration and corruption to U.S. economic assistance and the Pakistani intelligence service’s involvement in violence in the region — a question Holbrooke declined to answer.
The Taliban demand that foreign troops leave Afghanistan as a precondition for attending peace negotiations amounts to a request for the international community to give up, Holbrooke said.
“Everyone knows the great tradition in Afghanistan of throwing out the foreign invaders — from Alexander the Great, to the British, to the Russians — but we are not here in the same context,” he said. “We are here to help you regain your independence and to help you build up your own security forces. And after that, the troops will depart. And what the Taliban demand amounts to is surrender … and that will return your country to the black years and nobody wants that.”
Asked if he would favor removing individuals, such as Mullah Omar or Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, from a U.N. sanctions list, Holbrooke replied: “I can’t imagine what would justify such an action at this time, and I don’t know anyone who has suggested that.”
The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions against the Taliban in November 1999 for refusing to send Osama bin Laden to stand trial on terrorism charges in connection with two 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa. The sanctions — a travel ban, arms embargo and assets freeze — were later extended to al-Qaida. In July 2005, the council extended the sanctions again to cover affiliates and splinter groups of al-Qaida and the Taliban.
But questions have been raised about the fairness of the list and the rights of those subject to punitive measures to argue their case for being removed.
Last month, the council approved new measures to make sure that U.N. sanctions target the right people, companies and organizations for links to al-Qaida and the Taliban. The sanctions committee is reviewing all 488 individuals and entities on the list.
“Some on the list are dead,” Holbrooke said. “Some shouldn’t be on the list. And some are among the most dangerous people in the world.”