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Afghans Rally Against Compromising With Taliban

Afghans shout slogans against Osama bin Laden during a rally in Kabul on May 5.
Kamran Jebreili
Afghans shout slogans against Osama bin Laden during a rally in Kabul on May 5.

There is no clear sign yet that the death of Osama bin Laden has changed U.S. policy in Afghanistan. There is also no sign it has had any effect on the Taliban movement, which so far has been strangely silent about the death of its one-time ally and benefactor.

But that's not stopping fevered speculation in Afghanistan about how bin Laden's killing this week might help or hurt efforts to negotiate with the Taliban.

The policy of both the Obama administration and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been to encourage peace talks with any Afghan insurgent who denounces al-Qaida, puts down weapons and accepts the Afghan constitution. The death of bin Laden this week may take al-Qaida out of the equation, and some voices are suggesting it makes a peace deal — and an American drawdown — more imminent.

That doesn't go down well with the group of about 2,000 people who gathered Thursday near the Uroonus hotel in North Kabul.

"We are here to show our protest against the negotiation with Taliban. We want peace, but it's very clear, we want peace with dignity," said Mateen Beg, a Kabul resident. He says he came out to protest Karzai's frequent peace overtures to the Taliban and to Pakistan, which he says was complicit with bin Laden.

"We have gathered together to let the world to know that we're glad that Osama bin Laden is dead. We have been a victim of what he has done, and he has misused Islam," Beg said. "We're glad and the world should know that."

Among the prominent speakers was Amrullah Saleh, Karzai's former intelligence chief who left the government last summer — many say because his anti-Pakistan positions began to clash with Karzai's desire for Pakistan's help with a peace process.

Saleh entered the rally jogging among a phalanx of body guards, like a boxer or a political candidate.

"The government wants to capitulate, but we won't let that happen," he told the crowd. He went on to criticize the way Karzai often refers to the Taliban as "brothers."

"If you're negotiating with your enemy, that's fine," Saleh said, "but don't pretend they're your brothers."

The crowd loved it, but it's fair to say the group represented Karzai's political opposition — the speakers included Abdullah Abdullah, who ran against Karzai in 2009.

Abdullah sought to tar Karzai with some of the anger at Pakistan for apparently sheltering al-Qaida and Taliban leaders.

"President Karzai has been begging for help from a country that every day is destroying our country," Abduallah said.

The gathering issued a resolution demanding reforms from the Afghan government, and hinted at Egypt-style street protests. But it's hard to tell if bin Laden's death in Pakistan has truly galvanized Afghans or just given ammunition to Karzai's critics.

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Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.