Taliban invited to Afghan tribal meeting


London : Afghanistan is to convene a grand tribal convention to bring Taliban leaders in from the cold and has called on Saudi Arabia to help in the quest for peace and reconciliation.

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“Definitely we will invite the Taliban,” a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai revealed during Thursday’s London Conference on Afghanistan.

“We are using all kinds of possibilities – our neighbouring countries, the international community, the king of Saudi – to encourage the Taliban to come,” the spokesman said.

The final communiqué from the conference welcomed Afghanistan’s commitment to “reinvigorate Afghan-led reintegration efforts by developing and implementing an effective, inclusive, transparent and sustainable national Peace and Reintegration Program” and to convene a Grand Peace Jirga before the follow-up Kabul Conference.

“Conference Participants welcomed the plans of the Government of Afghanistan to offer an honourable place in society to those willing to renounce violence, participate in the free and open society and respect the principles that are enshrined in the Afghan constitution, cut ties with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, and pursue their political goals peacefully,” it also said.

Speaking at the concluding press conference, Karzai’s senior adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta said the Grand Peace Jirga would be held “within weeks.”

The Afghan government has to “talk to all who were not an integral part of al-Qaeda” and people who were prepared to accept the country’s constitution, Spanta said.

Those seen as Taliban mercenaries will be tempted away from the insurgency with the establishment of a new controversial Peace and Reintegration Fund, expected to amount to between £300m and £600m.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the press conference that he did not see any “moral ambiguity” over the funding while soldiers still fighting insurgents.

Soldier families want the war end soon as possible and political space must be expended to include those excluded from the reconciliation, Miliband said.

The final communiqué lays out the Afghan government’s goal was to “take the lead in conducting the majority of operations in the insecure areas of Afghanistan within three years and taking responsibility for physical security within five years.”

In order to make that happen, the international community has committed to funding 171,600 Afghan soldiers and 134,000 policemen by October next year – a total of more than 300,000.

The “phased transition” to Afghan’s taking responsibility for their own security “province by province” should be as “rapidly as possible” and the first ones should be handed over by late this year or early next year, it says without mentioning any number.

The communiqué reflects the Afghan desire to have greater control over aid revenues and to begin to lay out its own future, welcoming, “the international community’s commitment to align its assistance more closely with Afghan priorities.”

Afghan representatives, including finance minister Omar Zakhilwal, called for aid to be channelled through the government and promised to “open the books” to corruption investigators in return.

Within the next two years 50 per cent of the aid should go through the government, up from 20 per cent at present, but that is conditional on “strengthening financial management systems, reducing corruption and improving budget execution.”

Other anti-corruption measures include identifying top level civil service jobs which will be subject to new vetting procedures and issuing a decree prohibiting close relatives of ministers, their advisers, MPs, governors and some deputy ministers from serving in customs and revenue collection.