Representatives from 60 countries met in London on Thursday to discuss a new plan for Afghanistan. Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced an establishment of a new international fund to finance the return of Taliban insurgents to mainstream society.
If the fighters abandon the violence, they will get money and work, according to the plan. So far, donor countries pledged $140 million for the “peace and reintegration fund” to persuade low and middle level Taliban fighters to lay down their weapons.
Japan offered an initial $50 million to the fund, which its state secretary claimed to be a “very important tool“ to reconcile the Afghan nation, reported Reuters. Britain, Australia, and South Korea also promised money for the plan.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the U.S. supports the plan, but would not be contributing to the fund since the U.S. already has monies allocated for a similar purpose.
Mr. Brown pointed out that only the Taliban members who agree to stop fighting would be eligible, saying that they must “cut any ties with al-Qaeda, respect the constitution, and pursue their political goals peacefully.”
“We must reach out to all of our countrymen, especially our less enchanted brothers who are not part of al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks, who accept the Afghan's constitution,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai said at the conference.
Mr. Karzai reaffirmed his commitments as presented in his inauguration speech in November last year, to take control of the security in the country and to tackle corruption by prosecuting government officials.
The second main topic discussed relates to the withdrawl of NATO troops from Afghanistan, which should begin in 2011. In the meantime, the Afghan army and other national institutions are expected to take responsibility for security.
In 2010, NATO members will send another 37,000 troops to Afghanistan.
The Afghan government says it plans to include the Taliban in the future negotiations. President Karzai invited Taliban insurgents to a council of elders, a traditional assembly of tribe leaders and Islamic clergymen called when important national matters are to be discussed.
Skepticism About the Taliban Deal
Some analysts and opposition politicians expressed doubts whether the Taliban will follow the London plan.
Former Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah expressed his skepticism in a BBC television interview. “Taliban are not waiting there to be bribed and to be incorporated. This government is losing people. Because of the failures of the government, the ranks of the Taliban are being strengthen, and the people are joining the Taliban,” said Mr. Abdullah.
“The reality is that the situation has been deteriorating on the ground for the past three years and there has to be a compromise,” professor Paul Rogers from the University of Bradford told Reuters, questioning the Taliban's willingness to negotiate, especially if they will know there is an exit strategy. “Why don't they simply wait it out and wear their opponent down?” asked the professor of Peace Studies.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern about making deals with the Taliban unless effective mechanisms for protecting Afghan women are also incorporated into the plans.
“While women's rights have improved in many areas since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, recent trends have put these gains under pressure,” says a statement.
In their report from December 2009, the human rights group documented the diminishing respect for women’s rights in Afghanistan in recent years. It found that attacks on women in public life, as well as child marriages and forced marriages are still prevalent in society.