U.K. Proposes $500M to Woo Taliban Off Battlefield, Into Jobs

Britain is ready to contribute millions of dollars to a fund to buy off Taliban gunmen who are fighting British troops in southern Afghanistan.

More than 60 delegations, from Colombia to Australia, will gather in Lancaster House Thursday Morning to draw up an exit strategy from Afghanistan. Much of it is based on reintegrating the Taliban rank and file, wooing the Taliban leadership and gradually handing security to the Afghan Army and police.

The conference is expected to agree a $500 million, five-year fund for President Karzai to “buy off” insurgents who are not ideologically committed to destroying the West.

Downing Street confirmed that Britain will make a contribution of a “few million.” Germany has agreed to $70 million over five years and the bulk of the money will come from the Japanese aid budget to Afghanistan, diplomats suggested.

In return, the Afghan leader will have to agree to international monitors to strengthen an anti-corruption campaign in his Government.

President Karzai, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ban Ki Moon, the U.N. Secretary-General, flew in Wednesday for the talks, which will be chaired by David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary.

Before he arrived, Karzai insisted that Afghanistan wanted to take responsibility for its affairs as soon as possible. “Afghanistan does not want to be a burden on the shoulder of our allies and friends,” he said.

Nevertheless, foreign money and experience will be needed for the delicate reintegration program, which is being co-ordinated by American and British officers.

Officials believe that many young Afghan men in the south and east of the country join the Taliban because they have little else to do. They hope that the fund, which will be managed by President Karzai, will be used to offer them jobs as guards and in agriculture. They do not expect the money to be used for cash payments.

“The overwhelming majority of these people are not ideological supporters of Mullah Omar [the fugitive Taliban leader] and Al Qaeda,” Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said. “Based on interviews with prisoners, returnees, experts, there must be at least 70 percent of these people who are not fighting for anything to do with those causes.”

The Taliban, who are monitoring the conference, predicted that the approach would fail and described the move as a trick. In a statement on their Web site, the group said that offers of economic incentives would not draw away fighters because the militants were not fighting for “money, property and position; but for Islam and to end the foreign military presence”.

A separate reconciliation effort will be made to bring the Taliban leadership into the political process. The Karzai Government has been reaching to Taliban leaders for some time and Wednesday the U.N. announced the removal of five former senior Taleban officials from a sanctions list.

The officials delisted on Monday included the present governor of Uruzgan province and a member of the Afghan Parliament.

Western officials want the entire blacklist, which contains 137 alleged Taliban members, reviewed.

“That list ... should be re-examined and scrubbed down,” Holbrooke said. “There are people on it who are dead, there are people on it who should not be on it.”

British officials said that the plan was to split the Taliban between an ideologically driven hardcore and the rest.

President Karzai is understood to be keen to embrace the plan, although other members of the Afghan Parliament expressed reservations to a delegation of MPs last week.

Click here to read more on this story from The Times of London.