Negotiating with the Taliban: "Anybody who does this is not a friend of Afghanistan."
Among Kabul's human rights activists, student leaders and women's rights groups, the big fear isn't the spectre of Taliban militias rolling back into Kabul. The much greater threat comes from places like Washington, Tehran and Islamabad. It's the clamour for a backroom deal with the Taliban (with President Hamid Karzai's signature on it for the sake of appearances). The stink of a looming betrayal is everywhere, and Kabulis, betrayed so many times before, can smell it a mile away.
Even Karzai's closest supporters are starting to get sick of it. Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Spanta recently uttered a blistering rebuke to "so-called peacemakers" after the Saudis quietly brought together some Taliban-connected characters in Mecca and the President's businessman brother, Qayyum Karzai. Spanta says he's had quite enough of schemes to "surrender this land to the enemy."
When Karzai was elected in 2004, he was already saddled with several vicious warlords that had been talked down from the mountains. Ever since, he has been promising Afghanistan's remaining insurgents that he will embrace them, too, if they pledge to honour the Afghan constitution and respect the rule of law. In return, the Taliban have consistently thumbed their noses at Karzai. Nonetheless, in recent weeks, entreaties to the Taliban have gone into overdrive.
"We do not trust these things that are happening behind closed doors. It is coming from outside the country," Fatana Gilani, the head of the Afghanistan Women's Council, told me the other day. "Anybody who does this is not a friend of Afghanistan."Now I want you to imagine a boot, stamping on a human face, forever.