Thu, May 29, 2008 - Page 5 News List

UK defense chief urges shift on Taliban


British Defense Minister Des Browne endorsed peace talks between Pakistan and Taliban militants yesterday despite concerns from Afghanistan that the talks would allow the Taliban to regroup and launch more attacks.

Browne said Britain supported any moves that would encourage militants to put down their weapons and stop violence and said Pakistan and Afghanistan needed to work together on problems with their border, much of which is controlled by Taliban insurgents.

He said reconciliation should be a part of any strategy, although it was clear some militants had no intention of putting down their weapons.

“But you can’t kill your way out of these sorts of campaigns,” Browne told journalists at Australia’s National Press Club yesterday.

Faced with a wave of suicide attacks, Pakistan has begun talks with Taliban militants who control much of the country’s 2,700km mountain border with Afghanistan.

The Taliban, however, said it would fight in Afghanistan until all foreign troops were driven out of the country and Afghanistan has expressed concerns about any peace deals.

Browne, in Australia for talks with Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, said sovereign countries had the right to welcome insurgents back into society if they agreed to obey the rule of law and recognize democratic governments.

“If people are prepared to give up violence, put down their weapons, accept and recognize legitimate and democratic government ... then the sovereign governments from both countries are entitled to say we will welcome you to become part of our society,” he said.

“That’s their privilege and right. And we in the United Kingdom will support them in doing that,” he said.

Afghan forces, backed by more than 60,000 foreign troops, are engaged in daily battles with Taliban militants, mainly in Afghanistan’s south and east, the areas closest to the border with Pakistan.

Afghan officials have accused Pakistan of allowing the Taliban to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven and an area to regroup and plan further attacks.

Britain has about 7,800 troops in Afghanistan, based mainly in Helmand Province, as part of a NATO force of about 50,000 troops across the country.

Australia has about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, including about 300 special forces engaged in missions to track down militants.

In his address to the National Press Club in Canberra, Browne described the military campaign in Afghanistan as a “genuine noble cause” and said progress was being made in training Afghanistan’s army and police force.

But he said it would be “manifestly daft” to put a timeline on when foreign troops could leave Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan is a challenge to the international community for a generation,” he said. “If we walk away, it will haunt us.”

Meanwhile, one person was killed and several wounded in two separate suicide bombs attacks in Afghanistan, one of them against a US-led military base.

The Taliban said it was behind an attack in a district of Khost Province but there was no immediate claim of responsibility for one in Helmand Province.

Two attackers wearing military uniforms had tried to enter the international military base in Khost’s Gurbuz district, provincial government spokesman Khaiber Pashtun said.

“One of them walked out of the car and opened fire on police and the other exploded the car,” Pashtun said.

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