Insurgents urged to down arms

January 26, 2010 12:00 am

, ISTANBUL, Jan 26 – Afghan President Hamid Karzai tried Tuesday to shore up international backing for efforts to cajole Islamist insurgents to lay down their arms, as Germany offered more troops and cash for the ravaged nation.

Karzai was meeting regional leaders in Istanbul for talks also attended by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

They form part of the build-up to a conference in London on Thursday where Karzai hopes for Western support for his strategy of wooing Taliban fighters with the lure of jobs and money.

That strategy appears to have won the support of Germany, whose Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Tuesday that her government would ask parliament for another 500 troops for Afghanistan.

Merkel said the hike was part of a "completely new" approach to cooperating with the Afghan government aimed at enabling Kabul to take responsibility for security as soon as possible.

She said Berlin would also provide 50 million euros (70 million dollars) to a 500-million-dollar global fund to bring insurgents into the mainstream and roughly double development aid to 430 million euros.

Berlin currently has about 4,300 troops in Afghanistan. Merkel\’s government wants to increase that by 500 as well as offering 350 reservists who could be deployed for a limited period.

The talks in Istanbul, which are hosted by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, include Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, top officials from Iran, China, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, and observers from the United States, Russia and international organisations.

Turkey, NATO\’s sole Muslim-majority member, is keen to drum up regional support for Karzai and efforts to bolster Afghanistan\’s social and economic development.

Tuesday\’s gathering follows Turkish-sponsored talks Monday between Karzai and Zardari aimed at pushing the fractious neighbours to enhance cooperation against Islamist extremists.

Afterwards, Karzai said he would appeal at Thursday\’s conference in London for Taliban names to be removed from a UN blacklist.

The idea had previously met resistance but "as we are talking today, there is more willingness that this can be reconsidered," he said.

The list targeting Taliban and Al-Qaeda individuals and entities contains some 500 names, including 142 linked to the hardline militia toppled by US-led forces in late 2001.

Karzai wants to bring low- and mid-level fighters into mainstream society, but the Taliban leadership has so far remained hostile to negotiations.

While there was no immediate reaction to the proposal, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stated last week that "the only political solution is that the foreign forces and the Afghan government surrender to us."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs noted that US generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal had drawn parallels between Afghanistan and reconciliation schemes that had worked with factions in Iraq.

Gibbs did not comment in detail on Karzai\’s plan.

But he said Washington was open to "a similar path to what happened in Iraq… provided that whoever this is accepts the Afghan constitution, renounces violence, and publicly breaks with groups that advocate violence."

"That\’s, I think, what people expect under the notion of reconciliation."

Richard Holbrooke, the special US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, also said Monday that the 65 nations meeting in London would back Kabul\’s proposal to set up a reintegration fund to persuade fighters to lay down arms.

The intensified peace efforts come as the United States and allies aim for an eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan after eight years of battling a brutal Islamist insurgency.

Under a plan announced by President Barack Obama in December, 30,000 more US troops are to be deployed to the battlefield this year, and NATO partners have pledged about 10,000 new troops.

That would swell the foreign deployment in Afghanistan to about 150,000 to tackle the insurgency and train Afghan police and army to prepare for when US troops begin to withdraw in mid-2011.

Washington also intends to step up non-military assistance with a civilian strategy to stabilise Afghanistan and Pakistan, which includes improving the farm sector and governance in the two nations.


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