Gates Says Taliban Must Take Legitimate Afghan Role

Elisabeth Bumiller
The New York Times
January 22, 2010

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The United States recognizes that the Taliban are now part of the political fabric of Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here on Friday, but the group must be prepared to play a legitimate role before it can reconcile with the Afghan government.

That means, Mr. Gates said, that the Taliban must participate in elections, not oppose education and not assassinate local officials.

“The question is whether the Taliban at some point in this process are ready to help build a 21st-century Afghanistan or whether they still just want to kill people,” Mr. Gates said.

The defense secretary made his remarks in an interview with Pakistani journalists at the home of the American ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson. Mr. Gates was on the second day of a two-day visit to the country.

American officials have given qualified support to a proposed Afghan initiative to provide jobs, security and social benefits to Taliban followers who defect. Mr. Gates has said there could be a surge of such followers willing to be integrated into Afghan society, but he has voiced skepticism about whether the Taliban leadership is ready to work peacefully with the Afghan government.

“The question is, what do the Taliban want to make out of Afghanistan?” Mr. Gates told the journalists. “When they tried before, we saw what they wanted to make, and it was a desert, culturally and in every other way.”

The article continues at NYT.

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