Weary of the Afghanistan War Some in Merkel's Party Want to Talk with the Taliban

General David Petraeus made a plea for patience on Sunday and said that the roots of progress have been established in Afghanistan. But with public support of the war down across NATO, some politicians, including those from German Chancellor Merkel's own party, want to negotiate with the Taliban.

The war in Afghanistan is almost nine years old, and impatience is mounting.

The war in Afghanistan is almost nine years old, and impatience is mounting.

It has not been a good couple of months in Afghanistan. July was the deadliest month for US troops there since the campaign started almost nine years ago, with 66 soldiers losing their lives. Furthermore, the website icasualties.org reported over the weekend that 2,000 coalition troops have now died in Afghanistan. And the violence is getting worse. Whereas 521 soldiers were killed in 2009, making it the deadliest year since the beginning of the war, 434 have already been killed in 2010.

And still, there is no real end in sight. In an interview with NBC television aired on Sunday, the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus asked for patience and said that there were "areas of progress" that now had to be linked together and extended.

He also hinted that US President Barack Obama's July 2011 target for beginning to withdraw troops from the war-torn country might be premature. "I think the president has been quite clear in explaining that it's a process, not an event, and that it's conditions-based," Petraeus said of the possible drawdown.

It's not clear, however, whether his request for patience will be honored. Public support for the war is dropping in the US and is extremely low in several NATO countries, including Germany. Indeed, some politicians in Germany have told SPIEGEL that they would be interested in negotiations with the Taliban -- even with such notorious extremists as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar -- as a way to put an end to the violence.

Renunciation of Violence

"In order to guarantee stability in Afghanistan, we also have to take into account the development that some people have undergone," said Philipp Missfelder, the foreign policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives in parliament, in reference to Hekmatyar. He added that "radical Islamists like Hekmatyar or Taliban leader Mullah Omar could only be considered as negotiating partners if they were to meet conditions such as a renunciation of violence or the respect of women's rights."

Others in Berlin have also shown an interest in negotiation with those, like Hekmatyar, who are behind the Taliban-led insurgency. Kerstin Müller, a foreign policy expert with the Green Party, has likewise shown sympathy for a power-sharing arrangement between the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has not staked out a position publicly, but has said internally that there is no alternative to some sort of cooperation.

Still, it remains unclear what cooperation with a fighter like Hekmatyar might look like. He stands accused of having carried out several terrorist attacks, including a bloody assassination attempt on Karzai in 2002 which killed several bystanders. He is considered one of the primary leaders of the insurgency and, as a university student, is thought to have thrown acid on female students who refused to wear the veil.

Rainer Stinner, a foreign policy expert with the Free Democrats, Merkel's junior coalition partner, is skeptical of a partnership with Hekmatyar. "I have a hard time imagining that Hekmatyar will swear off violence," he said.

cgh/SPIEGEL -- with wire reports


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