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WE NEED TO GET OUT ..WE NEED TO TALK; Expert warns Allies missed chance to beat Taliban.


eported from the es of the war on nd interviewed he highest-ranking s of the Taliban. r James Fergusson claims ed our chance of victory in and will never get our the country until we talk n. s been nine years and it's emate. There's no purely ion now.

HE has re front-line terror an some of th members Now author we have misse Afghanistan troops out of t to the Taliban He said: "It's a sort of stale military soluti "Our mistak the Taliban wi have never att James, who l the West was what our soldi in the killing fi He said: "If al-Qaeda, it's p don't want al-"Their atta toppling of the "We need t them and get to secure th troops out mise."

ke has been in confusing ith al-Qaeda. The Taliban tacked the West."

lives in Edinburgh, insists , and is, confused about iers are meant to achieve fields of Afghanistan. f it's to protect us from pretty obvious the Taliban Qaeda back.

ack on 9/11 caused the e Taliban regime.

to open a dialogue with t things moving. If we are he country and pull our t , we need to comproe Possible the return cruelty an of women groups hav the West. negotiations leading to of the Taliban's barbaric nd their brutal oppression , homosexuals and other ve provoked an outcry in The cov ver of prestigious Time magazine t mutilated fa Aisha, 18, a happens if shocked re She told had been husban -punis B it is ab his month featuring the ace of an Afghan girl, Bibi and headlined "What we leave Afghanistan", aders around the world. d how her nose and ears n cut off by her abusive d - with Taliban approval to sh her for running away. ut James does not believe s up to the military to bring bout social change.

He said: "You can't reform ultures with armies, no matter how backward.

cm "You can't have 180,000 troops stomping around the country to protect women's rights. We don't have the capacity or the moral right.

"That can only come ut through a civilian-led ugh better education and ical change."

abou dialogue, through politi Father-of-t foreign corre working mos seeing first-ha about by the T He insists t largely of an an three James, 43, was a espondent for 10 years, stly in Afghanistan and and the changes brought Taliban's rise and fall.

the movement, made up ncient tribe known as the Pashtuns, were reluctant hosts to al-Qaeda and had nothing to do with attacks on the West.

James added: "The Pashtun custom is to offer sanctuary, which is what they did with al-Qaeda."

And he claims common sense would dictate that, if the Taliban regained any power, they would be highly unlikely to host terrorist groups whose actions could lead to another intervention.

The Taliban started out in October 1994, when life for the rural poor of Kandahar province was almost impossible, with ethnic and religious leaders at each other's throats.

Religious students, led by an illiterate village mullah with one eye, decided to take matters into their own hands. About 200 surrounded and took over a trucking stop on the border with Pakistan.

As the victory became legend, their numbers swelled and they called themselves the Taliban - the plural of talib, which literally means "one who seeks knowledge".

Their mission was to disarm the population and establish Sharia law. Just over 18 months later, Kabul fell and the country was effectively theirs.

They introduced or supported Islamic punishments - such as public executions of murderers and adulterers, and amputation of thieves' limbs.

Men were required to grow beards and women had to wear the burka. The Taliban showed a similar disdain for TV, music and cinema and disapproved of girls aged 10 and over going to school.

But no matter how much the West disapproves of the Taliban's regime, James points out that the Pashtuns make up 42 per cent of Afghanistan's population and cannot be excluded from the country's political future.

He said: "To many Afghans, including women, oppression was a small price to pay for an end to the wholesale rape and slaughter of the preceding years.

"The Taliban were the lesser of two evils."

And in a year when 1250 civilians have so far been killed, James believes many Afghans still see the Taliban as such.

He said: "There was a chance of a military solution in 2002-3, but that chance has long gone.

"We need a civilian-led approach. "Things have moved on and there are better places in the world for al-Qaeda to hide in than Afghanistan."

David Petraeus, the US commander in Afghanistan, has also expressed fears that our mission in Afghanistan is becoming confused. In November 2009, he said: "Let us not forget why we are in Afghanistan. It is to ensure this country cannot once again become a sanctuary for al-Qaeda."

With that mission almost certainly achieved, James claims it is time to talk and secure a political system which includes all Afghans.

He asked: "Is it not presumptuous to insist that a proud, patriarchal society that has survived for 3000 years should now instantly mirror us? "That is what well-meaning western experts did when they helped to draw up Afghanistan's 2003 constitution."

James says the stipulation that at least 25 per cent of MPs should be women is plain hypocrisy - since in Britain's last election women accounted for just 22 per cent of those voted into office. He added: "Social change will come but it must come from within and at its own pace. Our soldiers shouldn't die for it."

From 1997, James reported from Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, covering the city's fall to the Taliban.

In 1998, he became the first western journalist in more than two years to interview the fugitive warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the ex-Afghan prime minister said to be leading the extremist group behind the slaughter of British doctor Karen Woo.

James's first book, Kandahar Cockney, told the story of Mir, his Pashtun fixer-interpreter whom he befriended and helped gain political asylum in London.

His latest book, Taliban, is released SUNDAY EMAIL

THE brutality of the Taliban regime has never been in doubt but their links to al-Qaeda remain in the shadows.

Al-Qaeda, meaning "the base", was created in 1989 as Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts began looking for jihads.

The organisation grew out of the Arab volunteers who had gone to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight the Soviets.

The Arab Afghans were motivated.

In the early 1990s, al-Qaeda were based in Sudan, but in 1996 their HQ and training camps were moved to Afghanistan, where Bin Laden struck a deal with the Taliban.

This relationship was close - Bin Laden financed the Taliban and is said to have married one of his daughters to Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar.

But some claim the 9/11 attacks, which led to the Taliban's overthrow, was the death knell for the partnership.

Richard Barrett, of the UN Monitoring Team's al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctions committee, said: "When the Taliban look at what they've gained from their association from al-Qaeda, it's negative.

"If al-Qaeda hadn't attacked the US, the Taliban would still be the government. But, if they got back into power, could they keep al-Qaeda out?"


Brutality: Taliban fighters show off arms in mountains of Afghanistan while Time cover, below, exposes the horrific reality of regime On the frontline: The author in the warzone in Afghanistan Time to talk: Fergusson, at home in Edinburgh, says Allies must open a dialogue with the Taliban
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:9AFGH
Date:Aug 22, 2010
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