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Ninety-Four Percent of Kandaharis Want Peace Talks, Not War

Gareth Porter

Rahmat Gul - Afghans walk by a house destroyed in a suicide bombing the previous night in Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, April 16, 2010 . Fear has gripped the southern city of Kandahar ahead of NATO's upcoming offensive, with many of the residents blaming foreign troops and the Afghan government as much as the Taliban for pushing the city toward the brink of chaos - the very thing the military hopes to reverse.

WASHINGTON - An opinion survey of
Afghanistan's Kandahar province funded by the U.S. Army has revealed
that 94 percent of respondents support negotiating with the Taliban
over military confrontation with the insurgent group and 85 percent
regard the Taliban as "our Afghan brothers".

The survey, conducted
by a private U.S. contractor last December, covered Kandahar City and
other districts in the province into which Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal
is planning to introduce more troops in the biggest operation of the
entire war. Those districts include Arghandab, Zhari, rural Kandahar
and Panjwayi.

Afghan interviewers conducted the survey only in areas which were not under Taliban control.

decisive rejection of the use of foreign troops against the Taliban by
the population in Kandahar casts further doubt on the fundamental
premise of the Kandahar campaign, scheduled to begin in June, that the
population and tribal elders in those districts would welcome a
U.S.-NATO troop presence to expel the Taliban.

That assumption
was dealt a serious blow at a meeting on Apr. 4 at which tribal elders
from all over Kandahar told President Hamid Karzai they were not happy
with the planned military operation.

An unclassified report on
the opinion survey was published in March by Glevum Associates, a
Washington-based "strategic communications" company under contract for
the Human Terrain Systems programme in Afghanistan. A link to the
report was first provided by the website Danger Room which reported the
survey Apr. 16.

Ninety-one percent of the respondents
supported the convening of a "Loya Jirga", or "grand assembly" of
leaders as a way of ending the conflict, with 54 percent "strongly"
supporting it, and 37 percent "somewhat" supporting it. That figure
appears to reflect support for President Karzai's proposal for a "peace
Jirga" in which the Taliban would be invited to participate.

degree to which the population in the districts where McChrystal plans
to send troops rejects military confrontation and believes in a
peaceful negotiated settlement is suggested by a revealing vignette
recounted by Time magazine's Joe Klein in the Apr. 15 issue.

accompanied U.S. Army Captain Jeremiah Ellis when he visited a
17-year-old boy in Zhari district whose house Ellis wanted to use an
observation post. When Ellis asked the boy how he thought the war would
end, he answered, "Whenever you guys get out from here, things will get
better. The elders will sit down with the Taliban, and the Taliban will
lay down their arms."

The Kandahar offensive seems likely to
dramatise the contrast between the U.S. insistence on a military
approach to the Taliban control of large parts of southern Afghanistan
and the overwhelming preference of the Pashtun population for
initiating peace negotiations with the Taliban as Karzai has proposed.

highlighting that contradiction in the coming months could encourage
President Barack Obama to support Karzai's effort to begin negotiations
with the Taliban now rather than waiting until mid-2011, as the U.S.
military has been advocating since last December.

Obama told a
meeting of his "war cabinet" last month that it might be time to start
negotiations with the Taliban, but Defence Secretary Robert Gates and
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have opposed any move toward
negotiations until Gen. McChrystal is able to demonstrate clear success
in weakening the Taliban.

The Taliban ruling council has taken
advantage of the recent evidence of contradictions between Pashtuns in
Kandahar and the U.S. military over the Kandahar offensive by signaling
in an interview with The Sunday Times of London that Taliban leader
Mullah Omar is prepared to engage in "sincere and honest" talks.

a meeting in an unidentified Taliban-controlled area of Afghanistan
reported Sunday, two Taliban officials told the newspaper that Omar's
aims were now limited to the return of sharia (Islamic law), the
expulsion of foreigners and the restoration of security. It was the
first major signal of interest in negotiations since the arrest of
Mullah Omar's second in command, Mullah Baradar, in late January.

report of the Glevum survey revealed that more people in Kandahar
regard checkpoints maintained by the Afghan National Army (ANA) and
Afghan National Police (ANP) and ANA and ANP vehicles as the biggest
threat to their security while traveling than identified either Taliban
roadside bombs or Taliban checkpoints as the main threat.

percent of the respondents in the survey said the biggest threat to
their security while traveling were the ANA and ANP checkpoints on the
road, and 56 percent said ANA/ANP vehicles were the biggest threat.
Only 44 percent identified roadside bombs as the biggest threat – the
same percentage of respondents who regard convoys of the International
Security Assistance Force – the NATO command under Gen. McChrystal – as
the primary threat to their security.

Only 37 percent of the respondents regarded Taliban checkpoints as the main threat to their security.

Kandahar City, the main target of the coming U.S. military offensive in
Kandahar, the gap between perceptions of threats to travel security
from government forces and from the Taliban is even wider.

percent of the respondents in Kandahar City said they regard ANA/ANP
checkpoints as the main threat to their security, whereas roadside
bombs are the main problem for 42 percent of the respondents.

survey supports the U.S. military's suspicion that the transgressions
of local officials of the Afghan government, who are linked mainly to
President Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of the Kandahar
province council and the main warlord in the province, have pushed the
population into the arms of the Taliban.

An overwhelming 84
percent of the respondents agreed that corruption is the main cause of
the conflict, and two-thirds agreed that government corruption "makes
us look elsewhere". That language used in the questionnaire was
obviously intended to allow respondents to hint that they were
supporting the Taliban insurgents in response to the corruption,
without saying so explicitly.

More than half the respondents (53 percent) endorsed the statement that the Taliban are "incorruptible".

is a term that is often understood to include not only demands for
payments for services and passage through checkpoints but violence by
police against innocent civilians.

The form of government
corruption that has been exploited most successfully by the Taliban in
Kandahar is the threat to destroy opium crops if the farmers do not pay
a large bribe. The survey did not ask any questions about opium growing
and Afghan attitudes toward the government and the Taliban, although
that was one of the key questions that Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the head
of intelligence for Gen. McChrystal, had sought clarification of.

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