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Afghan Neighbors, Key Players Prep For London Conference

  • Dorian Jones

Afghan President Karzai to present reconciliation plans for moderate Taliban sympathizers at this week's London meeting

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, regional leaders and representatives from the U.S.-led coalition battling the Taliban held talks in Turkey in an effort to lay the groundwork for Thursday's London conference on Afghanistan.

President Karzai again focused on the message of reconciliation that he is expected to bring to Thursday's London conference on Afghanistan.

"Those Taliban, who are not part of terrorist networks, who are the sons of the Afghan soil, and who are in thousands and thousands, they have to be reintegrated, and they are welcomed to be integrated," Mr. Karzai said.

The one-day regional summit in Turkey brought together heads of state from Afghanistan's neighbors, leading ministers and diplomats from across the region and beyond. Many of the countries taking part in the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Taliban were also represented, along with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Diplomats say the session allowed the participants a chance to head into Thursday's conference in London with a single voice.

In a joint declaration, the participants stressed the importance of regional solutions and policies in developing an effective strategy to bring peace to Afghanistan.

Summit host, Turkish president Abdullah Gul, says you have to win the hearts and minds of the people, you cannot just fight. He says you also need a well-trained Afghan army that is well-equipped and represents all the people. President Gul says the region has to deal with its own problems.

Mr. Karzai says this strategy will be presented to Western governments at the London conference.

"The conference in London will be a major opportunity for Afghanistan to explain to the rest of the world our plans for reconciliation and reintegration, the structure of the administration through which we will do that, the resources which we will require, and the plan that we have for both the reintegration and reconciliation process," Mr. Karzai said.

But observers say calls for more funds could be met with resistance, because of continuing allegations of widespread corruption. Growing Afghan discontent over corruption and nepotism is seen as a key recruiting tool for the Taliban.

President Karzai, whose recent election victory was mired in corruption allegations, acknowledged there is work to be done.

"[Corruption is a] consequence [of] the years of upheaval and trouble in Afghanistan [and is] partly [a result] of foreign interventions and invasions, partly the destruction and poverty caused by the invasions and interventions. So Afghanistan will have to move a long way into the future in order to us to have a more efficient government," Mr. Karzai said.

Observers say the Istanbul summit provided an opportunity to hammer out key proposals for peace and stability that will be now presented at the London Conference this Thursday.