INTERVIEW-Taliban military cornered by war-commander By Tom Heneghan PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Many Taliban military commanders want their leaders to hand power to a broad-based government, but cannot press their case amid U.S. strikes on Afghanistan, a senior Kabul commander said on Thursday.
Taliban forces would defend the government as long as it was under attack by a foreign power and few soldiers would defect to opposition ranks, the commander, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
If U.S. forces helped the Northern Alliance capture the capital, Kabul, Taliban officers would retreat to the mountains to continue a guerrilla war against the invader, he said in the Pakistani frontier city of Peshawar.
But most commanders did not want to battle the opposition, whose commanders they knew personally from the 1980s war against the Soviet Union, and would press for peace if given the chance, he added.
"Many military commanders think this way," said the officer, whose 500-man regiment saw its headquarters in eastern Kabul hit by U.S. bombs late last week. The troops had already deserted the buildings, knowing they were a target, so none was killed, he said.
"There are also many people in the Taliban who agree with this," he said, distinguishing between commanders -- mostly professional soldiers with little interest in Islamic fundamentalism -- and Taliban members who wanted to create the world's purest Islamic state.
"But we all oppose this bombing," he said on the 19th day of U.S. attacks to punish the Taliban and flush out their "guest," the world's most wanted man Osama bin Laden.
"The attacks should stop so the political discussions can begin," he said.
The Taliban would then invite people from all over the country for an assembly to decide on a new leadership, he said.
Afghan opposition leaders meeting in Peshawar have said they also want the bombing to stop and have called for a Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, to choose a new leadership that would include pro-peace elements now siding with the Taliban.
Taliban government envoys are believed to have discussed possible peace plans with Pakistan, main backer of the dominant Pashtun ethnic group. Taliban ambassador to Islamabad Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef left for Kabul on Wednesday for further consultations with his government.
The 45-year-old commander said he was a Kabul Military Academy graduate who had served in the Afghan Army until Afghanistan's 1978 communist coup.
He fought with a moderate mujahideen (holy warriors) group during the 1979-89 war of resistance against the Soviet occupation. He said the opposition would have to include some Taliban in the next government if it wanted to avoid further war.
"If they leave the Taliban without any role, the Taliban will fight," he said during a short visit to his family living in Peshawar.
But the question of a role for what are called "moderate" Taliban has divided the opposition, with Pakistani-backed Pashtuns accepting them while the Northern Alliance, made up mostly of minority groups, is more wary.
It may be hard to identify moderates in a movement that has imposed an Islamic system based on a 1,300-year-old Utopia under which women are banned from work or school, public executions are routine, men must not trim their bears and television and music are banned.
Russia, a key Alliance supporter, has ruled out any role for Taliban turncoats. The United States and Pakistan -- which helped to create the militia -- have said a role could be found for some moderates.
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