Afghan president gains regional support at Istanbul summit

As the Afghan government drafts ‘Plan T,’ a full-fledged reintegration plan for moderate Taliban insurgents, regional leaders convene in Istanbul to grant their support to the efforts. ‘The Taliban who are not part of terrorist networks or al-Qaeda are the sons of the Afghan soil. They are thousands and they must be reintegrated,’ says Karzai

The Afghan leadership has gained its neighbors’ support for efforts to persuade Taliban fighters to lay down arms and join the political process ahead of a key international summit in London.

“We support the Afghan national process of reconciliation and reintegration in accordance with the Constitution of Afghanistan in a way that is Afghan-led and -driven,” country leaders said Tuesday in a joint statement after meeting in Istanbul. The regional summit was attended by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, his counterparts from Pakistan and Turkey and senior officials from Iran, China, Tajikistan, Russia, Krygystan and the United Kingdom.

“Regional cooperation starts from the region. It has great potential. It is effective when it is regionally owned and governed in a sincere, transparent and constructive manner, bringing positive synergy,” said the statement.

After talks with the Turkish and Pakistani presidents, Karzai described moderate Taliban fighters as “sons of the Afghan soil” who should be reintegrated. He did not rule out negotiating with Taliban who are not part of al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group.

“The Taliban who are not part of terrorist networks or al-Qaeda are the sons of the Afghan soil,” Karzai told reporters. “They are thousands and thousands and thousands and they have to be reintegrated.”

The Afghan government has been drafting a full-fledged reintegration plan for Taliban fighters as Karzai seeks international support for his agenda at the one-day donors’ meeting in London on Thursday. His plan already won some backing with diplomatic sources saying China erased Afghanistan’s debts. Japan earlier pledged $5 billion in aid over five years for the war-torn country, and the German government announced Tuesday it would ask its parliament for another 500 troops for the Afghan war.

Hard task

Although his new policy receives political, financial and military support from Turkey, Europe and the United States, it will be hard to pick out the Taliban fighters who are involved in terror and those who are not. The Taliban is known to be divided into many groups, ranging from radical to moderate.

The United States, which was reluctant to have any contact with the Taliban before, appears to be pursuing a different strategy and says a political solution is needed to stabilize Afghanistan.

“Negotiations are inevitable. The Taliban is a reality in the field,” a Turkish diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “Today, both in Europe and in Washington, there is talk of even reaching out to Hamas,” the diplomat said, referring to Islamist rulers of the besieged Gaza Strip.

Turkey followed a similar strategy in Iraq where Ankara always encouraged all factions in the country to participate in the political process; it is doing the same in Afghanistan. Turkish officials said Turkey was providing the most help in its history to Afghanistan and pledged $200 million in aid last year, as well as the use of soft power for the training of the Afghan national police and military.

“Military instruments are not adequate alone to overcome the problems facing Afghanistan,” President Abdullah Gül told reporters. “It is necessary to win hearts and minds of all Afghan people.”

The Afghan leader’s plan is aimed at bringing moderate Taliban factions into mainstream society to combat the insurgency, but the leadership of the Islamic militant group remains resistant to any negotiations.

“If they insist on not participating in the national reconciliation process, they will be shooting themselves in the foot,” a European diplomat told the Daily News. “It is the Afghan government to decide, not outsiders.”

In Afghanistan, which has a history of different groups and warlords controlling the country, it is hard to draw a thick line between those who are involved in terrorist or illegal activity and those who are not. As Washington says, success would not be possible in Afghanistan without the support of its neighbor Pakistan.

“There are people within the Taliban who should be given the chance to reconcile with the mainstream. Pakistan supports this plan. Many groups are willing to talk,” said a Pakistani official. “They should lay down arms and then talk. This is the precondition,” said the official.

Observers say the new Afghan strategy, based on money and job offers to encourage Taliban fighters to lay down arms, which is backed by the international community, should be part of a broader political process.

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