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London Afghanistan Conference Promises New Strategy, Way Out

Sonja Pace | London 28 January 2010

Ministers and delegates from major world powers are meeting in London to discuss how best to bring an end to a nearly decade-long conflict in Afghanistan, pull out foreign troops and set Afghans on track to take charge of their own affairs.

Foreign ministers and senior officials from 70 countries and international organizations arrived at London's historic Lancaster House for a day of discussions.

There were handshakes and smiles as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Afghan President Hamid Karzai greeted participants.

Opening the meeting, Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke of a crucial moment with much at stake. "This conference marks the beginning of the transition process, agreeing to the necessary conditions under which we can begin - district by district, province by province - the transferring of responsibility for security from international forces to Afghan forces and Afghan people," he said.

With more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, plus more on the way, and waning public support for the war, the United States and its allies are eager to try to find a way out.

Turning over control and responsibility to the Afghans is key, said Prime Minister Brown. "I have described our shared strategy as one of 'Afghanization'. Building up the Afghan institutions, the army, the police, civilian government, so that as they become stronger we can hand over to them the responsibility of tackling terrorism and extremism and our forces can start to come home," he said.

"It will take time, but I believe that the conditions set out in the plan we will sign up to today can be met sooner than many expect and as a result the process of hand-over, district by district, will start later this year," he added.

But after nearly a decade of fighting, the enemy has proved tenacious. But a plan outlined by President Karzai would bring at least some of the Taliban into the government fold.

"We must reach out to all of our countrymen, especially our less enchanted brothers who are not part of al Qaida or other terrorist networks, who accept the Afghan's constitution. To do this we will establish a national council for peace and reconciliation and reintegration, followed by a peace jirga [council] in Afghanistan," said the Afghan president.

President Karzai asked Saudi Arabia in particular to play a prominent role in helping bring peace and singled out Afghanistan's neighbor Pakistan in asking for its support as well.

It is widely felt that some sort of reconciliation is crucial to end the fighting and bring improvements in the lives of the Afghan population.



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