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British Report Calls for Talks With Taliban in Afghanistan

Taliban fighters pose with weapons in an undisclosed location in Nangarhar province (file photo)
Taliban fighters pose with weapons in an undisclosed location in Nangarhar province (file photo)

British parliamentarians said Wednesday that counterinsurgency measures in Afghanistan are not working and peace talks need to start between the U.S. and its allies and the Taliban. Their report comes as Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Britain.

The report published Wednesday said the military tactics being used in Afghanistan will not succeed in bringing stability to the war-torn country.

Richard Ottaway is a Conservative Member of Parliament and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which wrote the report.

"There are huge political issues in Afghanistan and in our judgment the window of opportunity is closing,” Ottaway said. “Deadlines have been set by NATO and everyday that we spend fighting is one day less talking."

He says it’s impossible to win against an enemy like the Taliban. They can be pushed back, he says, but they will resurface as soon as foreign militaries leave.

And in the meantime, he says, the military campaign in Afghanistan is leaving a political vacuum. He says regional players such as Pakistan, Iran and China could fill that void if Britain fails to build good relations with the Taliban.

"At the moment there [are] no talks going on,” he added. “There is a huge gulf of mistrust between the Taliban and the military forces and the local community, we are not winning hearts and minds, reconstruction is not convincing people that it is a good thing that we are there. And, as a result, foreign countries in the region will be actually setting off on their own agenda and that's obviously a concern to us."

He said Britain should put pressure on the United States to enter into talks with Taliban.

But he says there are a number of challenges to opening such a dialogue, including practical problems. In his words, there is "no address for the Taliban."

He says Afghan President Hamid Karzai is the key.

"This has to be an Afghan-led reconciliation and he has to represent the Afghan government,” said Ottaway. “He has probably the best contacts with the Taliban and he is the one who has probably got the closest relationship with Pakistan, so to that extent I think he is critical."

Karzai met with British Prime Minister David Cameron for talks in London on Tuesday. At a joint press conference, Cameron said progress was being made in Afghanistan and promised Britain’s long term support for the country.

Karzai said Afghanistan will not be a burden on Britain.

"By 2014 Afghanistan will be responsible, and entirely responsible, for the protection of its people and territory,” said Karzai. “But that does not mean that there will be a complete removal of the international presence in Afghanistan."

He said some of Afghanistan’s partners, including Britain, will continue to have a support role in Afghanistan, including military training and financial investment.

After the U.S., Britain contributes the most troops and money to Afghanistan.