ANALYSIS: Taliban reconciliation is easier conceived than achieved

LONDON — “Afghan leadership, Afghan ownership” was the common refrain Thursday at a summit aimed at how the international community can best help Afghanistan stand on its own, even as President Hamid Karzai said he expects NATO troops to stay for another 10 years.

While trumpeting Afghan self-determination, the London conference showcased the war-torn country’s continued dependence on international assistance as it battles corruption, insecurity and a host of other issues.

Highlighting the summit was the announcement of a reconciliation and reintegration program that hopes to bring tens of thousands of Taliban members back into the fold of mainstream society. Funded by the West, the plan would reintegrate low- to mid-level Taliban, while attempting to reconcile with higher-level leaders.

“We must reach out to all our countrymen, especially our disenchanted brothers who are not part of al-Qaida or other terrorist networks,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai said at the onset of the conference, which included Afghan leaders and 60 foreign ministers.

It was also announced that Thursday’s meeting will be followed by a so-called “Grand Peace Jirga” to further the Peace and Reintegration Program, with another international conference slated for Kabul this spring.

Allies will pledge at least $500 million for Karzai’s program, but Western diplomats said the money would not pay for cash inducements, The Associated Press reported Thursday. Instead, the money will be used to create jobs in the country’s security and agriculture sectors.

A greater role for Afghan security forces also was announced Thursday, with Afghan forces taking control of some districts later this year, U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

Under the plan, the Afghan army and police would take over security throughout the country’s 34 provinces by 2015, Karzai said.

“With regard to training and equipping the Afghan security forces, five to 10 years will be enough,” Karzai said in a joint BBC interview with Brown, broadcast Thursday, according to the Associated Press. “With regard to sustaining them until Afghanistan is financially able to provide for our forces, the time will be extended to 10 to 15 years.”

Calling Thursday’s conference the beginning of the security transition process, Brown announced plans to grow the Afghan National Army to 171,000 and the Afghan National Police to 134,000 by October 2011. Those numbers would make the Afghan forces larger than the coalition’s military footprint, which is slated to grow to 135,000 this year with the help of President Barack Obama’s 30,000-troop surge. Police mentoring teams will double by April, Brown said.

Later in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., Karzai five to 10 years would be enough time to train and equip the Afghan security forces.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department is slated to roughly triple its civilian presence in Afghanistan, with about 1,000 civilian experts expected to be in country by the end of the month. As part of the effort to bolster the Afghan government, Brown announced that 12,000 civil servants will be trained in core administrative functions at the district and provincial levels by the end of 2011.

Despite the increase of foreign boots and civilian workers on the ground this year, Brown said the mission will continue to evolve toward Afghans taking control of security, noting the urgency behind Thursday’s initiatives.

“By the middle of next year, we have to turn the tide in our fight against the insurgency and our work to support the Afghan government,” he said.

Calling this an “extremely troubling time for Afghanistan,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the gradual handover of Afghanistan to its own government will require a combined military and civilian approach, bolstering security forces while strengthening the government.

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