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What Does The Taliban Want From Peace Talks?


Michael Semple has been working in Afghanistan for more than 20 years. He is a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. And he joins us now from the studios of WGBH in Boston.

Welcome to the program, Mr. Semple.


MARTIN: So, what does the United States want from talks with the Taliban?

SEMPLE: United States is looking for an opportunity to stabilize Afghanistan as it proceeds with the withdrawal of its troops over the next couple of years. It also wants to boost the prospects of keeping al-Qaida and other international terrorists out of the country.

MARTIN: What makes Americans think that the Taliban would be on board with that?

SEMPLE: I think we saw in the statement which the Taliban have put out at the start of the week, there's a somewhat of oblique reference saying that they did not want the soil of Afghanistan to be used to harm any other country.

MARTIN: Why have Taliban leaders agreed to the talks? What do they want at the end of this?

SEMPLE: I think the Taliban themselves have more than one opinion on this issue. Clearly, there are some people - pragmatists in the movement - who believe that for them the fight was about getting foreign troops to withdraw. It's obvious that foreign troops are now withdrawing. However, there others in the movement who expect that they actually will be able to go on and win this war; that actually they can move into Kabul, take over the country. And they're looking to things like talks with the United States to, you know, conduct propaganda. And project to the rest of country, and to the world, that they're sort of a government-in-waiting.

MARTIN: Do Afghans see the Taliban as a legitimate entity that should have a role in Afghanistan's future?

SEMPLE: Over the past few years, I think that it has become quite clear that a broad spectrum of opinion in Afghanistan is prepared to tolerate the Taliban, first of all, entering talks, but somehow entering the political system as one amongst many other factions.

MARTIN: What has changed within the organization over the past dozen years or so since the U.S. ouster of the Taliban?

SEMPLE: The Taliban has certainly, as a movement, has not suddenly blossomed into some kind of moderate movement. You could almost say it's got stronger at both extremes. I think that over the past few years, certainly I've met many people who I tend to call them pragmatic rather than moderate. These are people who have decided that military victory is impossible, and they have to reach an accommodation with their, you know, fellow countrymen.

They've become more numerous and are more confident. And if you ask me or are they older or younger, actually, it's quite a view of the veterans feel this way; people who've seen many rounds of conflict. And often they are middle-aged men who frankly think they would like to settle down. And they realize another round of civil war means that they'll be fighting until they're in their graves.

But also, I think we've seen a growing inside the Taliban movement of those who trust in the force of arms; those who have been in a basically their whole adult life has been spent in fighting against the United States. Whereas the Taliban, say, almost 15, 20 years ago have really had their - their ambitions were limited to Afghanistan itself, some of the new generation sort of thinking slightly more of the global in grandiose terms about the Islamic caliphate.

MARTIN: Must the Taliban be part of Afghanistan's immediate future?

SEMPLE: It's something that we certainly learned over the past 10 years, is that they're not about to just sit down and to disappear. The Taliban are going to be around in Afghanistan. They will either be running an armed opposition, an armed insurgency, or else they will be sort of dealt into a broad-based administration. And, of course, they have another vision for themselves. They dream that they will be actually running the administration, which I think is rather unlikely.

MARTIN: Michael Semple of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Mr. Semple, thank you so much.

SEMPLE: Thank you, and goodbye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.