Former warlord to fight Karzai in Afghanistan polls

Sherzai welcomes Obama's bid to reach out to moderate Taliban elements and end bloodshed

A former warlord tipped to unseat Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan's coming elections has backed President Barack Obama's plans to negotiate with the Taliban. Gul Agha Sherzai was the first Afghan leader Mr Obama met when he visited the country last year and, speaking exclusively to The Independent, he confirmed his plans to run for the presidency on a promise to empower the country's tribes and negotiate with the insurgents.

"I will approach all the tribal elders to negotiate with the Taliban who have been brainwashed by other people," the governor of Nangahar province said. "I won't rely on fighting and destruction and air strikes. There are a lot of other ways to approach this other than fighting."

The US President has opened the door to a reconciliation with moderate elements of the Taliban, noting the successes notched up in Iraq by extending a hand to Sunni militias. "Part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us," Mr Obama told The New York Times. But he warned: "The situation in Afghanistan is more complex. You have a less-governed region, a history of fierce independence among tribes."

The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, claimed that Washington was simply echoing what Kabul has said for years. "This is approval of our previous stance and we accept and praise it," he said.

But, in 2007, Mr Karzai soured relations with the West by expelling two of Kabul's longest-serving diplomats for their involvement in such negotiations, And his Peace and Reconciliation Commission, designed to win over insurgents who renounce violence, is widely seen as a failure.

Mr Sherzai knows the insurgent enemy well. A former mujahedin, he ousted the Taliban from Kandahar with US Special Forces in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks. But now the militants have regrouped, and when he met Mr Obama, then a presidential candidate, in July last year, they discussed options to bring peace to the border with Pakistan. "Afghanistan is a tribal society and we can solve all the problems through jirgas [traditional tribal councils]," he said. "I will tell all of the people, whoever is tired of fighting, to bring their Talibs to me and I will negotiate."

Giving Afghanistan's tribes responsibility for security is a central pillar of the review being conducted at Mr Obama's request by General David Petraeus. In February, America launched a pilot programme, in Wardak province, to arm local communities so they can defend themselves against the Taliban. But, while making deals with tribal elders is central to Mr Sherzai's plan, he thinks armed militias will store up future problems. "I don't agree with militias. We don't want people fighting in the future. We should support our army and police."

With support for the President waning at home and abroad, analysts see him as one of only a handful of challengers with a credible chance of beating Mr Karzai in August's polls. The man himself resembles a rotund, feudal king. At his office in the old King's Palace in Jalalabad, he holds court at the head of an enormous banquet table, sat on a carved wooden throne. His neck flows over his collar and he is missing most of his top teeth. Lined up along the table's long flanks are turbaned tribal elders, wrapped in traditional woollen cloaks, colonels with more medals than Afghanistan has had battles, and businessmen in western suits. They are a cross section of the local power brokers, a blend of old bloodlines and new money.

Mr Sherzai's critics claim many of the problems afflicting southern Afghanistan stem from his stint as governor in Kandahar from 2001-03. Corruption and patronage in favour of his ethnic Pashtun people upset the tribal balance. But diplomats admit he has fared better in Nangahar, in the east, eliminating poppy cultivation and working with US forces and tribal elders to create an island of relative security and prosperity. Yet questions over his human rights record remain, he has been linked to the drugs trade and, as one western official said: "We're not sure if his private life would stand up to much scrutiny."

But Mr Sherzai is adamant about approaching the presidency differently. "In all of Afghanistan, with God's help, I will go and sit with my tribes people," he said. "I will divide Afghanistan into several zones and I will spend one month in each zone. I won't spend my time in the presidential palace."

News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker