Wed, Jan 27, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Karzai lobbies leaders for Taliban reconciliation plan

AFP , ISTANBUL AND WASHINGTON

Afghan President Hamid Karzai met yesterday with regional leaders as he tried to shore up international backing for his efforts to cajole Islamist insurgents into laying down their arms.

The talks, also attended by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, formed part of the build-up to a conference in London where Karzai hopes for Western support for his strategy of wooing Taliban fighters with the lure of jobs and money.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul hosted the gathering with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and senior officials from Iran, China, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan among those attending, as well as observers from the US, Russia and international organizations.

The participants were expected to issue a joint declaration after the talks.

Turkey, NATO’s sole Muslim-majority member and a partner in the multinational force in Afghanistan, is keen to drum up regional support for Karzai, stressing the need to step up efforts to bolster Afghanistan’s social and economic development.

“There cannot be a more important strategy than winning the minds and hearts of the Afghan people,” a Turkish government official said ahead of the meeting.

“Sometimes drilling a simple water well, for instance, can be more valuable in the eyes of the people than a costly project,” he said.

Yesterday’s gathering follows Turkish-sponsored talks in Istanbul on Monday between Karzai and Zerdari, aimed at pushing the two troubled neighbors to enhance cooperation against Islamist extremists.

Speaking after the talks, Karzai said he would appeal at tomorrow’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 about 500 names, including 142 linked to the militia which was toppled from power by US-led forces in late 2001.

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

In related news, the New York Times reported yesterday that the US ambassador to Afghanistan had warned in diplomatic cables published for the first time in full yesterday that Karzai was “not an adequate strategic partner” and the surge in US forces would only deepen his government’s dependence on Washington.

Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s strong reservations were first leaked at the height of an internal debate late last year over whether to increase US forces levels in Afghanistan.

But the cables in which he made his case to US President Barack Obama were published for the first time yesterday by the New York Times, which obtained them from an unidentified US official who said it was important for the historical record that the detailed assessments be made public.

In them, Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general and former commander of US forces in Afghanistan, offered a rebuttal of a counter-insurgency strategy proposed by the current US commander, General Stanley McChrystal, who had warned of a looming failure without more troops.

McChrystal ultimately won the argument and Obama approved the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

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