LONDON: A one-day international conference on Afghanistan on Thursday rejected India’s argument that there were no degrees of Talibanism. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, hosting the conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, announced in his opening address the establishment of a $500 million ‘trust fund’ to buy "peace and integration" with warriors who are engaged in violence for economic rather than ideological reasons. A whopping $140 million has been pledged already for this year.
During his pre-conference discussion with the British foreign secretary David Miliband, external affairs minister S M Krishna had specifically said, "There should be no distinction between a good Taliban and a bad Taliban." But this clearly fell on deaf ears. It was also unclear whether remnants of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, once cultivated by India, would be accommodated in any way. There was also no reference to the erstwhile foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, who put up a spirited fight in the first round of the recent controversial presidential election and exposed fraud before withdrawing from the contest.
Krishna was allocated a seat in the second of three rows of attendees at the conference which in itself reflected India’s peripheral role in Afghan affairs in the eyes of the international community. This, despite India being the biggest regional aid-giver to Afghanistan, with a commitment of $1.3 million. Earlier in the week, Turkey, an ally of Pakistan, did not even bother to invite India to a confabulation on Afghanistan.
Krishna was among more than 70 foreign ministers and officials of international organisations who attended the convention at the 185-year-old Lancaster House, a coveted venue for summits and high level interactions.
Pakistan supports a differentiation between Taliban segments, including being generally soft towards the Afghan Taliban, which was sponsored by the Pakistani Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence. In an interview to a British daily on Thursday, foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi claimed: "Pakistan is perhaps better placed than any other country in the world to support Afghan reintegration and reconciliation."
As a goodwill gesture, the conference was preceded by a lifting of United Nations sanctions on five leaders of the obscurantist Taliban regime, which was ousted by armed forces led by the United States after the 9/11 attack on New York by the Afghanistan-based Al Qaida. Among the beneficiaries is a former foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil.
However, Brown warned, "But those insurgents who refuse to accept the conditions for reintegration, we have no choice but to pursue them militarily." It is widely believed that hardcore elements among the extremists will not accept the amnesty.
In keeping with United States President Barack Obama’s plan to start withdrawing American troops in a little over 18 months, Brown also declared that to fill the breach the strength of the Afghan army would be increased to 134,000 by October of this year and to 171,600 by October 2011. Corresponding enlargements would also occur in respect of the Afghan police. The template for Afghanistan is similar to the one utilised in Iraq, that of handover of responsibilities province by province to national security forces.