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Sheila MacVicar: Pashtuns split on allegiances

(CNN) -- Eight Western aid workers detained in Kabul, Afghanistan, by the Taliban -- charged with trying to convert Muslims to Christianity -- were freed Thursday. This comes as tribal leaders try to persuade ethnic Pashtun Taliban commanders to switch sides.

CNN's Sheila MacVicar is based in Islamabad where she gave this report.

MACVICAR: The jail was apparently opened and as those aid workers came out in the streets, they came into contact or were taken to some commander or tribal leader, who basically took control of them and then arranged to get them out safely.

Obviously, that meant connections and contacts somehow, either through Pakistan or other sources, ultimately leading to Americans to be able to deliver them to an airfield where they could be picked up safely.

All of this came about at a time when we are beginning to see a lot of pressure being put on those Pashtun ethnic commanders -- currently Taliban commanders -- trying to persuade them that now is the moment they must switch allegiance, they must join up with other tribal leaders and commanders who are with the king in order to avert further bloodshed. It's a pretty stark choice that's being offered now.

There are discussions and meetings taking place later today and again tomorrow, and ultimately it will determine whether the Pashtun tribe goes to war against each other, or whether there can be some quick solution brought for peace.

CNN: What is the expectation of what kind of reconciliation that might be reached between these Pashtun tribes?

MACVICAR: The Pashtuns are ethnically the most dominant group both in Afghanistan and within the Taliban. What is concentrating all minds here are the very strong military gains made by the Northern Alliance. The Alliance, which is not Pashtun, holds at least 50 percent of Afghanistan some reports say at least 80 percent of Afghanistan. The Pashtun tribal leaders and elders who are not allied to the Taliban are saying, "Enough is enough. We have to stop this. We have to end this bloodshed, we have to work to restoring peace and restoring one nation, one Afghanistan, one broad-based representative government."

So, they're saying to the Taliban commanders -- and remember, a lot of these Taliban commanders and anti-Taliban commanders are in some cases brothers, cousins, family -- they're saying, "OK, now is the moment. Which allegiance? Join us or you will meet us on the battlefield."


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