Reconciliation with Taliban worth trying, Biden says
March 11, 2009
WASHINGTON, March 10, 2009 - Though reconciliation with the Taliban is worth exploring, decisions in that regard should be left to Afghanistan's people and government, Vice President Joe Biden said today in Brussels, Belgium.
Biden is attending the meeting of the North Atlantic Council -- the principal decision-making body for the NATO alliance.
During a joint news conference with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Biden said 5 percent of the Taliban are incorrigible and must be defeated. Another 25 percent, he added, are unsure of their commitment to the insurgency.
About 70 percent are involved because they're getting paid, the vice president said.
In a New York Times interview published March 8, President Barack Obama endorsed some attempt at negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Attempting reconciliation with the Taliban is worth a try, Biden said, but he added that the initiative must come from the Afghan government.
"The idea of what concessions would be made is well beyond the scope of my being able to answer, except to say that whatever is initiated will have to be ultimately initiated by the Afghan government, and will have to be such that it would not undermine a legitimate Afghan government," Biden said.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman reinforced Biden's position. "This is largely a decision that is up to the Afghans and the Afghan government in regards to how they proceed with any sort of reconciliation," he said today.
Pentagon officials long have maintained that all conflicts should lead to some form of reconciliation, and that hopes of long-term peace and security rely on warring sides reaching a political accommodation.
"This is a matter for the Afghan government to address with respect to political reconciliation and how they develop a government that is respectful of all its people," Whitman said.
Part of appeal of the notion of reconciliation between Afghanistan and the Taliban is the success of the "Sons of Iraq" civilian security groups that began in Iraq's Anbar province, Biden said. In that program, former insurgents began working with the Iraqi government and coalition forces.
"We engaged in Iraq the most extreme elements of the Sunni resistance in Anbar province," Biden said. "We ended up with an operation called the Sons of Iraq, because we accurately determined ... that the idea that every ... Sunni insurgent was a supporter of al-Qaida was simply not true."
The same is true with the Taliban, the vice president maintained. But Afghanistan is not Iraq, and whether reconciliation will work in Afghanistan remains to be seen, he acknowledged.
"There's only one way, and that is to engage ... in the process, looking for pragmatic solutions to accomplishing what our goal is -- that is an Afghanistan that is ... not a haven for terror, and is able to sustain itself on its own and provide its own security," he said.