Pakistani commander warns against negotiations with Taliban 

From his headquarters in Bala Hisar Fort, a 4,000-year-old redoubt near the Khyber Pass, Pakistani Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan warned that if the United States agreed to reconciliation talks with the Taliban, it would be committing a major mistake.

American military and political leaders have said they are willing to join the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai in negotiations with the Taliban.

That makes some top military commanders in Pakistan, locked in their own bitter conflict with the Taliban, very anxious.

From his headquarters in Bala Hisar Fort, a 4,000-year-old redoubt near the Khyber Pass, Pakistani Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan warned that if the United States agreed to reconciliation talks with the Taliban, it would be committing a major mistake.

"This region is filled with lessons in history. We must learn from this history — not ignore it," Khan said. "The West should not say they will negotiate with the Taliban but with the dominant tribes and tribal leaders. The best way to achieve victory against the Taliban is getting the community involved in the process. They have been battered by this war."

The Obama administration announced late last year it was open to reconciliation talks with moderate Taliban members as part of its new strategy to win the war in Afghanistan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Taliban "should be offered an honorable form of reconciliation and reintegration into a peaceful society if they are willing to abandon violence, break with al Qaeda and support the constitution."

Preliminary, informal talks involving U.S. officials are already under way, according to Afghan, U.S. and Pakistani officials with direct knowledge of them.

Last month's arrest by Pakistani intelligence officials of Mullah Baradar, the Taliban's No. 2 man, temporarily halted negotiations with the Taliban and angered Karzai, who had been negotiating with the insurgent leader, according to Pakistani officials.

But on Monday, Karzai held talks with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the head of the second largest insurgency group, Hizb-i-Islami, and a man designated a terrorist by the United States.

Khan, who leads Pakistan's 40,000-member Frontier Corps, said he has personally warned Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, against negotiations with Taliban factions.

"Taliban leadership is untrustworthy," Khan said during an interview at his headquarters. "We shouldn't negotiate with the Taliban leaders. We should empower the people of the tribes to not allow them to return. We should be negotiating with the tribes."

Khan blames the Taliban for the disruption that has led thousands of tribal families to cluster in camps for displaced people like one at Nowshera, near his base.

Many of those living in the tents that dot the barren landscape at Nowshera agree, saying it is fear of the Taliban that keeps them from returning home.

"The Taliban would kill us for the smallest of things," said Zarat, from South Waziristan, as she watched over her seven children who crowd the tent where they live. Her only possessions are blankets and minimal clothing. She has been living in the camp for two years.

She recalled the destruction of girls schools by Taliban leaders, beheadings of those who disagreed with their strict enforcement of Islamic law, and the ongoing mistreatment of women in her village who did not fully cooperate with the Taliban insurgents.

"My children sleep on the ground with nothing," she said, setting her baby on the hard makeshift floor of her tent. "We are not waging the war — it's the Taliban and foreigners. If we don't cooperate, the Taliban kill us."

Zarat, who lost her husband in the fighting, said she abandoned everything and left in the darkness of night with a baby on her back and the rest of her children following in tow until they reached Peshawar. "It was a very dangerous journey for us," she said.

Her tale was echoed by many in the forlorn refugee camp. And the struggle continues, according to Khan, who said about 50 insurgents had been captured in the area in recent months.

Khan said the misery in the camps illustrates the misguided approach by Afghanistan and the United States to seek out moderates among the Taliban and use them as a bridge toward reconciliation.

"What is a moderate Taliban?" Khan asked.

He then made a final pitch for using whatever force necessary to push the Taliban out of tribal lands: "Let the owners of the land be the keepers of the land. That's the message that should be delivered."

scarter@washingtonexaminer.com

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