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Misreading the Taliban

The west is losing in Afghanistan in part because it misreads its Taliban opponents. Understanding who they are is the only basis for future negotiations

By Jason Burke   November 2008

Maidan Shar, the provincial capital of Wardak province, 30 miles south of Kabul, is now on the frontline in Afghanistan. Physically, it has changed little since the Taliban were in power between 1996 and 2001. A frequent visitor to Afghanistan during that time, I only noticed the town because it was where the tarmac ended on the road to Kandahar, which lies a further 250 miles and 16 hours of ferociously uncomfortable driving to the south. Today the road is too risky for travel.

Until two years ago, the Taliban were restricted to the provinces around Kandahar and some isolated…

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