Patience at gunpointIt has been 21 days since Korean aid workers were kidnapped in Afghanistan by the Taliban. The summit meeting between the United States President George W. Bush and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan ended early yesterday morning. At the meeting they reaffirmed the principle that they do not negotiate with or concede to terrorist groups.
The two presidents affirmed the official stance of their countries and said they will not respond to the Taliban’s demand that the Korean hostages be exchanged for Taliban prisoners. That was expected.
Now we have to prepare for a protracted crisis, while trying to prevent more killings among the 21 Koreans whose lives are at stake.
The governments of the United States and Afghanistan say they will do their best to ensure the safe return of the hostages, even though they cannot meet the demands of the Taliban because of their policy against negotiating with terrorists. The two countries must put more effort into finding a creative and flexible resolution without contravening this principle.
The Taliban has adopted a flexible stance, suggesting a swap between the female Korean hostages and female Taliban prisoners. President Karzai could possibly grant a pardon to female Taliban prisoners who committed minor crimes.
The Korean government must seek a breakthrough via direct talks with the Taliban. It has been nearly a week since the possibility of direct talks was first mentioned, but there has been no progress on this front. It has been said that the stumbling block is a difference of opinion over a meeting place, but this is hard to believe.
The Taliban might change their stance abruptly and some women hostages are in very bad condition. The government delegation must be prepared for any eventuality and should try to have negotiations as soon as possible.
Time is running out, particularly when thinking about the extreme situation of the hostages and the anguish of their families. But a hostage crisis usually goes on for a long time, as seen in past instances. This crisis is moving in the same direction, so we must be patient and watch while the Korean and other governments offer their best efforts.