WASHINGTON, Feb 25: Only five per cent of the Taliban militants in Afghanistan are hard-core, others can be persuaded to abandon violence, says Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mr Holbrooke, appointed a special envoy on Jan 22, however, opposes a similar engagement with the militants in Pakistan. He strongly opposed an arrangement Pakistan reached with the Taliban militants in Swat earlier this month, saying that this would allow the militants to rearm and regroup.

In a television interview, Mr Holbrooke said he agreed with an assessment that divided the Taliban into three groups: the hard core, about five per cent, those frustrated with the Afghan government, about 25 per cent, and those who joined the Taliban movement for guns or cash, about 70 per cent.

The US envoy quoted a cousin of the Afghan president as describing the 70 per cent of the Taliban militants as “mostly young, unemployed men, who either get paid by the Taliban to take up guns or they just love guns”.

Mr Holbrooke said that while there could be no negotiations with the hard core five per cent, others could be engaged. “The 25 per cent who joined because of perceived injustice or corruption from the government — that is our mission, to help the Afghan government eliminate those issues,” said the US envoy while explaining how the US planned to win over the Taliban militants.

“And the other 70 per cent, the floating people who pick up guns in a culture where guns are very popular and it’s a long-standing historical tradition, that you have to deal with by a much better public information programme.”

Mr Holbrooke said the US needed to reach out to at least a portion of the Taliban to make real progress in Afghanistan. “We have to, because, as everyone has said, you don’t — you can’t defeat the Taliban by a military victory, World War II style.”The US envoy also urged Pakistan to withdraw most of its troops from the Indian border and use them for fighting militants. “If you were to ask me the biggest thing we could do that would help everyone, it would be to get the Pakistanis to redeploy more troops to the western border,” he said.

He noted that Pakistan had deployed 120,000 regular army and 50,000 Frontier Corps soldiers on the western area. And far more, double or triple that, on the eastern border. “If they could shift more to the west, that would be critically valuable. And not just shift them in regular army formations, but train them for counter-insurgency,” he said.

“They are a regular army trained since independence to defend against India. And like the American army in Vietnam, they’re looking backward to the past wars, and not forward.”

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