It is all part of what appears to be a charm offensive by some elements of the Taliban – a concerted effort to soften their image in what may be a precursor to a possible political breakthrough 10 years after the advent of war.
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These changes were observed before the killing of Osama Bin Laden. But the US success in targeting the Al Qaeda leader last weekend is likely to force the Taliban as well as Pakistan’s military hard-liners to look even more closely at negotiation. The US, meanwhile, will need to decide if it’s worth more years of both military and diplomatic engagement to reach an Afghan settlement, or if now is the moment simply to declare victory and begin departing.
In interviews across Afghanistan and Pakistan over the preceding two months, members of the insurgency and their supporters have sounded strikingly similar notes, almost as if reading from the same sheet music. "The world ignored us and we had no resources ... no money for girls' education and even boys' education," says one Taliban commander from Wardak Province. "If we have resources and money, we'll start doing these things."
Perhaps most significant, when the Taliban reclaimed the Pech Valley in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan last month, the insurgent commander there, Haji Muhammad Dawran Safi, told the Afghan Islamic Press that they intended to keep all schools and health institutions open. He dismissed allegations that the Taliban have torched schools around the country, noting: "We do not want to deprive Afghan children of education."