After Afghanistan conference, an optimistic Karzai
After last week's Afghanistan conference in London, Afghan President Hamid Karzai returned home optimistic, with money pledged for reconciliation with the Taliban and promises that his government will soon be given control over half of Western aid.
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The larger dynamics from London on the Afghan war to end a refuge for Al Qaeda will play out over months. But international support and funds for the Afghan president are an immediate help to Mr. Karzai at home, analysts say.
But he arrived in Kabul Sunday with NATO support for Taliban engagement, funding of $140 million for the first year of the policy – and agreement that his government will soon administer 50 percent of Western aid, rather than the 20 percent it now controls.
The final communiqué in London did not address a new regional role for actors such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan for reasons of political sensitivity. But both nations are considered to eye any momentum to engage the Taliban in positive terms. Both have significant influence inside the country.
Renewed calls for reconciliation
Karzai Sunday in Kabul reiterated an offer for Taliban soldiers to lay down their arms in what is being called a “reconciliation and reintegration” policy. While viewed with strong skepticism by some Taliban experts, Karzai’s idea to reach out to our “disenchanted brothers” is an appeal to Afghan solidarity, an appeal to rank and file soldiers that are less ideological, and an attempt to probe for fissures in the Taliban’s disparate leadership among those less committed to Al Qaeda’s brand of jihad.
Karzai also said a peace jirga, or a traditional grand assembly of tribal elders, will be convened in Kabul "soon" to discuss how to start a new effort with Taliban: “We, as Afghans, are trying our best to reach as high as possible to bring peace and security to Afghanistan," he said. His aides told reporters in London that the Taliban would not be brought into a “powersharing” role in the Kabul government.
While Taliban forces are considered to be in a strong position, they have been unable to hold territory. Ahmed Rashid, an expert on Afghanistan and the Taliban who is based in Lahore, Pakistan, wrote recently in the New York Review of Books that “the next few months could offer a critical opportunity to persuade the Taliban that this is the best time to negotiate a settlement, because they are at their strongest."