Karzai Says Taliban Movement Dead, Noncriminal Members Can Return

By John D. Banusiewicz

KABUL, Afghanistan – The Taliban is dead as a movement or a military factor in Afghanistan, the country’s president said here Feb. 26, and former Taliban leaders seeking to return home will be allowed back if they don’t have criminal records.

President Hamid Karzai held a joint news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld after they met in Afghanistan’s presidential palace. He challenged the implications of a question posed by a correspondent from the Arab satellite television network al Jazeera that implied al Qaeda and the Taliban were becoming increasingly active in the country.

"Everything that happens in Afghanistan is not terrorist-related," Karzai said. "Lack of security at times is not Taliban-related or security-related. There is banditry too. There is theft too. There is armed robbery too." He said ascribing crimes common in any country and any major city to the Taliban because it happens in Afghanistan is vastly overstating the case.

"We strongly believe, with evidence, that they are defeated. They’re gone," Karzai said, referring to the Taliban. For example, he said, a terrorist who recently killed 19 children in Kandahar tried to hide in a house, but the woman living there delivered him to the police. Citizens have turned in terrorists in four or five other cases in recent months, he noted.

Rumsfeld echoed Karzai’s assessment of the Taliban. "I’ve not seen any indication that the Taliban pose a military threat to Afghanistan," he said.

"We don’t see a resurgence of the Taliban," Karzai said. "The Taliban as a movement does not exist anymore. You’d be surprised, gentleman from al Jazeera, if I disclosed to you as to how many approaches we have from the Taliban on a daily basis – individuals (and) groups coming to talk to us to let them back into the country."

He acknowledged that terrorist incidents and even some Taliban-related activities still occur, but repeated that most crime in the country is "normal life."

The Taliban leaders contacting Afghan officials "recognize that Afghanistan is now a better place for all of us to live in" and would like to return and benefit from that. Karzai said all Taliban who do not have criminal records and were not involved with al Qaeda or terrorism "are free to return to their country and live a normal life."