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Turkish, Pakistani, Afghan Presidents Discuss Taliban Policy

Dorian Jones | Istanbul 25 January 2010

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his plan to re-integrate some Taliban insurgents back into society has the support of Western governments that back his government. Mr. Karzai spoke in Turkey, where he met with Pakistani and Turkish leaders on the eve of a major London conference on Afghanistan. .

The meeting of Afghan and Pakistan presidents was the fourth of its kind to be hosted by their Turkish counterpart. Observers say the latest session appeared to be the most relaxed, with smiles and what seemed a common sense of purpose, especially in dealing with the Taliban.

After the meeting Afghan President Hamid Karzai said just fighting the Taliban is no longer an option.

"Those Taliban who are not part of al-Qaida or other terrorist networks are welcome to come back to their country and lay down arms and resume life under the constitution of Afghanistan," he said.

President Karzai said reconciliation with the Taliban is not a new policy of his government, but he says there is now an international consensus, including the United States, on talking to the insurgents.

"The difference this time is that we have the backings of our friends, neighbors, and the international community, which I would also hope, as we go to London and in the London conference, [we] receive financial support," said the Afghan president.

The London conference on Afghanistan opens Thursday and is to include talks on international development assistance. Paying for a program to encourage Taliban insurgents to give up their fight is expected to be one of the main Afghan demands.

When asked if Pakistan had already begun talking to the Taliban, President Asif Zardari did not deny it.

"We have to talk about peace, and if there are any people who are the reconcilables or the people who want to give up their way of life, the democratic governments always welcome them back," he said.

President Karzai praised Turkish efforts to ease tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan over allegations of Pakistani support for the Taliban. But observers say the efforts can only be seen as a success when a consensus is reached on how to deal with the Taliban.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said he is satisfied with progress so far.

He says the presidents expect a good outcome to the meetings. He says they will set a good example for leaders in the region to take responsibility for their region.

Turkey has strong historical relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan and as NATO's only predominately Muslim member it is seen as uniquely placed to be a facilitator in the region.

The Turkish president hosts a meeting Tuesday with the Afghanistan and Pakistan presidents, and senior diplomats and ministers from the United States, Iran, Russia, China and Britain.

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