Clinton Backs $500M Effort to Court Taliban

NATO wants to lure Taliban fighters away from the battlefield.

January 28, 2010, 3:12 PM

LONDON Jan. 28, 2010— -- NATO and Afghan officials detailed a $500 million initiative for Afghanistan to negotiate with insurgents today and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated she supports attempts to deal with the Taliban.

"The starting premise is you don't make peace with your friends," Clinton said at the London conference. "You have to be willing to engage with your enemies if you want to create a situation that ends the insurgency."

Noting the success of efforts to integrate members of the Iraqi insurgency, Clinton said the plan was aimed largely at Taliban foot soldiers. She said that insurgent fighters would have to renounce violence and Al Qaeda, and agree to abide by Afghan laws.

The program will be funded by a "Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund," dubbed the "Taliban Trust Fund" by many, that will cost $500 million over five years.

"As important as our military mission is, we know that force alone cannot achieve our goals," she said.

Overall, Clinton and other leaders described the conference in London as a success. "What we've seen is a global challenge met with a global response," she said.

The timing of the conference follows a chaotic and bloody year in Afghanistan costing the lives of many Afghans and Coalition force members. At the London conference, the general sentiment was that it's time to change tactics and consider reconciliation with the Taliban.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, accompanied by Afghanistan's Foreign Secretary Rangin Spanta and the U.N.'s Special representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide pushed for the new tactic.

"The aim of the conference was to align the military and civilian resources of every coalition partner behind a clear political strategy, to help [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai and his government deliver the ambitious agenda that he set out in his inaugural speech last November," Miliband told the press gathering.

Negotiating With the Taliban Raises Questions

It is the latest in a series of strategies intended to move the fractured state towards reconciliation and self-sufficiency and pave the way for the coalition forces to begin an exit strategy. World leaders at the conference agreed that handing over security in the country's provinces to Afghan forces could start as early as the end of this year.

For some, the idea of cutting deals with the Taliban has raised eyebrows - and questions. When the chief of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, was asked if it would be acceptable to have a Taliban minister of Justice, his response, why not:

"It has to be a decision taken by the Afghans themselves and it is of course a prerequisite that those people engaged in this reconciliation and reintegration process will accept the Afghan constitution and basic democratic principles," Rasmussen said.

Mary Akrami, director of the Afghan Women Skills Development Center, was present at today's conference and was initially dubious of the idea to invite members of the Taliban to an Afghan peace council of elders. The Taliban has threatened and burned girls schools and required women to wear full length burqas.

Akrami underlined the importance of making sure that those affiliated with Taliban would make sure they adhered to the law.

"As a woman, it was a big concern. Which Taliban would they invite?" Akrami told ABC News. "But we require support and in this struggle we need the international community to support womens' groups and rights."

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