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Afghanistan/UK/US - London conference ends

Peace ‘jirga’ to push Karzai's Taliban plan

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2010-01-28 Latest update 2010-02-03 16:10 TU

Afghan President Hamid Karzai meets with British soldiers who served in Afghanistan(Photo: Reuters)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai meets with British soldiers who served in Afghanistan
(Photo: Reuters)

The Afghan government is to organise a ‘‘peace jirga’’ – a conference of local leaders and Muslim clerics – to try to end the conflict with the Taliban. President Hamid Karzai’s plan to win over Taliban fighters won the backing of Thursday’s international conference on Afghanistan in London, which also insisted on measures to tackle corruption.

US and British ministers have thrown their weight behind Karzai’s plan to offer land, jobs and protection to Taliban defectors, who in return must give up their guns and cut links with Al-Qaeda.

‘‘You don’t make peace with your friends,’’ said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when asked whether that means pardoning people who may have killed US or British troops.

But how far will Karzai’s peace-at-any-price strategy go?

Will the Taliban be at the peace jirga? Probably, said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, interviewed at the conference. He pointed out that Taliban defectors are already sitting in parliament, adding that allies of the Islamists are without doubt sitting in local administrative bodies.

Could some join the government in future? Finance minister Omar Zakhylwal seems to think it is possible. But outgoing Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, now Karzai’s special representative, told RFI that there is no way that will happen.

Another condition set for rebels seeking retirement is that they support the Taliban constitution.

Clinton and UK Foreign Secretary David Milliband stress that means accepting equal rights for all, which means women’s rights. Spanta agreed.

But Mary Akrami of the Afghan Women Skills Development Centre points out that experience so far shows that formal agreement does not guarantee progress for women. Many in the government do not treat women as equals she says, and she would like to know how the commitment is going to be turned into reality.

Apart from the peace plan, the conference has extracted yet another promise to fight corruption from the Karzai government.

This time there is an undertaking to grant the High Office of Oversight the power to investigate and sanction corrupt officials within one month.

A Major Crimes Task Force and Anti-Corruption Tribunal are also to be set up this year, while civil servants are to be vetted and close relatives of ministers and other top officials are to be barred from serving in customs and revenue collection.

Speakers at the conference mentioned the long line of international conferences that have preceded this one, without asking whether the commitments they made were kept.

After the peace jirga there will be another international conference in Kabul this time. That’s set for the spring.

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