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Experts Say Plan to Seperate Moderate Afghan Taliban from Hardliners Could Work

One element of President Obama's new Afghan strategy is aimed at reaching out to moderate Taliban insurgents to peel them away from a hard-line Islamist core linked to al Qaida. Vice President Joe Biden said this month that he believed only five percent of the Taliban were "incorrigible", who have to be fought militarily while the rest can be separated.

Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan have been most active in the south and east, staging attacks against NATO and US troops.

Tension was high in Kuner in eastern Afghanistan where a roadside bomb killed four US troops earlier this month (March 16) in an upsurge in insurgent violence.

To deal with the violence, President Obama has unveiled a new strategy for Afghanistan that includes sending more troops to the country. The strategy also includes the prospect of trying to persuade moderate insurgents to renounce violence.

"There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force and they must be defeated. But there are also those who have taken up arms because of coercion or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course," he said.

However, some analysts doubt there are many "moderate Taliban" leaders who would want to pursue reconciliation. Yet Lisa Curtis at the Heritage Foundation in Washington says this strategy might work with the Taliban rank and file.

"Yes, it is possible to try to peel off the low levels of the Taliban people who may be fighting for various reasons, whether it is for money, fear, maybe even nationalism," she said.

Many analysts agree the effort to split the insurgency is necessary because Taliban fighters are making it impossible for NATO and US forces to reach all elements of Afghan society. Haider Mullick is at the Joint Special Operations University.

"Right now the USAID, ISAF and the Afghan army, they need that room to walk in and during that time they have to be very sensitive to the local customs [Rivaj and Pashtunwali] and to some degree how they infuse it with Islamic law," he said.

Recently, Vice President Biden estimated that five percent of the Taliban can be considered hardcore, while the rest should be persuaded to join the mainstream of Afghan society.

And the moderates can be won, says Shuja Nawaz at the Atlantic Council.

"By offering them rewards, by offering them a chance to work within the government and to order their own affairs, by recognizing their role in their respective regions. By providing them the resources so they can create jobs and opportunities for people," she said.

He says dividing the Taliban is a must over the long run if the fight is to be taken to the smaller, hardcore group.

"Having isolated the hardcore Taliban, you will allow the true regional powers who are locals to emerge and you will be able to provide enough security so that they can operate against the hardcore Taliban," he said.

Experts agree the U.S. mission in Afghanistan could take years, but President Obama has also made clear he wants to have an exit strategy. There is no doubt some countries want to see the United States bogged down in Afghanistan, says James Clad -- a South Asia analyst at the National Defense University. But that can change.

"But their attitudes are probably going to change significantly once they realize unless they take an active interest in stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan, they may be stuck with the status quo ante, what existed before, which was not good news for China, Russia and Iran," he said.

Experts note that the United States invaded Afghanistan to destroy the al-Qaida terror network responsible for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. And the Afghan strategy, they say, should hinge on the enduring lesson that countries should not be allowed to provide a safe haven for terrorists.