Former Taliban militants hold their weapons during a joining ceremony with the Afghan government in Herat, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Jan. 30, 2012.
KABUL -- With U.S. and NATO combat troops expected to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Taliban leaders are approaching the negotiating table with the Afghan government to discuss both an end to the war and their role in the country's future.
But the idea of the Taliban -- with its history of establishing and running an extremist Islamic state -- becoming an official force in the nation is frightening to many.
NBC News spoke with Afghans around the country about the possibility. They reflected on what life was like under the Taliban regime more than a decade ago, how life changed after they lost power following the American-led invasion and what they think of their possible return to power.
Sonya Hadees, a 27-year-old lawyer in Sheberghan, Jowzjan Province
[If the Taliban return] it will affect our lives from many angles. Our freedom will be restricted and our connection with the rest of the world will be limited. We will only be connected to Pakistan.
It will also affect our justice and judiciary system. The female lawyers will not be allowed to work. Women’s jails will not be able to have female lawyers to file their cases.
Education will be limited and there will be no education for females. If males want to get an education, they will have their subjects and studies selected by the Taliban. And our country will be further behind the world in education.
Mohammad Nabi, a 30-year-old shopkeeper in Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province
It will be good if the Taliban join the present government. But if they come with their own government and take over, then I am against this. There was no education during their time and the economic situation was not good when they were in power. I can easily say there was zero business at that time.
The only thing that was good during their regime was security. We had security back then, but not now. So it will be good if they will have a joint government.
If the Taliban come back it will have big impact on our lives. Most important, it will impact education and my kids, especially the girls. They will be not able to go to school. And a comeback of the Taliban will also affect our businesses. All the big business men will leave the country and no one will invest here.
Abdul, a 31-year-old employee of an international NGO, in Paktia Province
Paktia is a Pashtun-majority province. Most Pashtuns areas are already under the control of Taliban, so there is definitely some sympathy for the Taliban here. I can say that 90 percent of the people here in our province are hoping the Taliban will join the current government.
I am working for a non-governmental organization and we always face problems whenever we leave our home or office because they target us wherever they can.
We do not want them to come in power like they were in the past because people still have a lot of bad memories from that time. Economically, there were a lot of problems during their regime; there were no jobs. But now, although we blame the current government for not doing enough, we can still say 80 percent of the people are living a better life than they were during the Taliban time. Today, we have kids going to school, especially girls.
Lastly, it will be good if the Taliban come and join the current government. There will be less violence with people like me because currently we are always facing violence and attacks.
Attaullah, a 35-year-old community health worker in Badakhshan Province
Security is the most important objective for us, and the Taliban can provide that. The only ones who are afraid are those who want to be more Westernized, the ones who want a more Western Afghanistan.
Regarding women rights, I’ll say that the Taliban have said if they come back to power they will give women opportunities, but in an Islamic frame. Women will be allowed to go to school, be teachers and even doctors in the hospitals. But I am not sure they will let women take part in social organizations.
With the Taliban coming back into the government ordinary Afghan citizens will not be affected. Because Afghans want security and that is why they will have no problem with Taliban. Personally I do not have any problem with the Taliban or the current government.
Wazhma Frogh, 32-year-old women’s activist in Kabul, Kabul Province
[The] Taliban “return” was already envisaged when the government and Afghan people (through their members of parliament and the loya jirga) agreed for a political settlement aimed at bringing peace. That is why the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program was developed and a reconciliation process that meant talking to the leaders took more shape.
I personally and professionally have been engaged in the peace process as part of the women's movement. We are trying to make the process more people oriented and community-based. We are a product of war and civil war for all these years, unless we as Afghans reconcile, [the] insurgency won’t end.
A peace process that is inclusive and eventually allows the insurgents to come back, renounce violence and become part of a social democratic process -- that is a dream of every sensible Afghan citizen. I think this country is really tired of killing and fighting and we want an end to any kind of violence and war.
If the Taliban come in that way, then who will have a problem? But if they return in leadership positions without any due process on their past injustices and atrocities; if they come back bringing the same misery they enforced on us a decade ago; if they return with the same political patronage system and revert all our democratic achievements; then of course I am very worried about that return.
I feel the past 10 years have given us historic opportunities, of course with some failed experiments. But we are not the same generation we were when the Soviets left and we all started killing and fighting for position.So the optimism is that after 10 years of education, liberty and political freedoms, Afghans won’t engage in the same kind of civil war.
NBC News Atia Abawi contributed to this report.