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Afghanistan/UK/US - London conference report

Brown backs talks with Taliban

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2010-01-28 Latest update 2010-01-28 13:03 TU

Gordon Brown and Hamid Karzai arrive at the Afghanistan conference in London(Photo: Reuters)

Gordon Brown and Hamid Karzai arrive at the Afghanistan conference in London
(Photo: Reuters)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s plan to win over Taliban rebels won backing from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the start of Thursday's conference on Afghanistan in London. Both leaders said Afghan forces will take increasing control of security in the country ahead of the planned withdrawal of the US troops in 2011.

Opening the international conference, Brown welcomed Karzai’s Peace and Reintegration Programme, which will promise jobs or farming land and protection from possible reprisals to Taliban who stop fighting the government.

He said that it will be financed by an international trust fund, much of whose money is expected to come from Japan.

Wednesday the UN Security Council, in a reconciliation gesture that Karzai had lobbied for, agreed to lift sanctions on five Taliban leaders, including former Foreign Minister Mullah Mutawakil. But extending it to top leader Mullah Omar, to whom Karzai has offered "safe passage" if he gives up fighting, would prove controversial with Karzai's foreign backers.

And there are conditions for defectors being accepted back into the fold. They must renounce violence, accept the Afghan constitution and, above all, break links with Al-Qaeda or "other terrorist networks", Brown explained.

Karzai is planning a "peace jirga", a conference which could involve Taliban chiefs, which should take place ahead of another planned international conference in Kabul in the spring.

Although the US troop presence in Afghanistan is currently increasing, President Barack Obama is committed to start withdrawing his forces in 2011. So increasing the control of security by the Afghan police and army is high on this conference’s agenda.

They will be built up to 300,000 by October 2011, Brown said, by which time international forces should stand at 135,000.

Karzai, who told the BBC on Thursday that he expects some international presence for at least ten years, told the conference that a gradual handover will start this year.

"Over the next two to three years we will focus on gradually assuming responsibility," he said, adding that Afghans should "lead security" within the next five years.

Both leaders also mentioned the fight against corruption.

The existing High Office on Anti-Corruption will be given new powers, Karzai said, without going into detail. Brown said that international experts will be involved in its work.

But the Afghan government is reported to be resisting too many specifics on this sensitive issue, which affects not just low-level civil servants, but ministers and provincial governors as well.

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