The highly anticipated London conference on Afghanistan got underway on Thursday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai saying that the future of the nation depends on enabling Afghans themselves to take control.
A key international conference on Afghanistan opened in London on Thursday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai stressing that the future security and stability of the war-torn nation hinges on enabling Afghans to take control of their country.
In his first major international speech following the discredited Aug. 20 presidential election, Karzai proposed a six-point programme to help secure Afghanistan.
Topping the agenda at the one-day conference was an initiative to reconcile and reintegrate Taliban militants willing to renounce violence, al Qadea ties and accept the Afghan Constitution.
In his key-note address before representatives from more than 60 nations as well as major international organizations, Karzai called on Saudi Arabia to play a leading role in negotiating and reintegrating Taliban militants.
"We hope His Majesty (Saudi) King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz will kindly play a prominent role to guide and assist the peace process," he said.
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Saudi Arabia, along with Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, was one of only three nations to recognise the Taliban regime before its 2001 ouster by a US-led coalition force.
Karzai announced plans to launch a national council of peace, reconciliation and reintegration to oversee reconciliation efforts, which would be followed by a “peace jirga” in Afghanistan. Jirga is the Afghan term for a traditional gathering of community leaders.
Brown calls for beefing up of Afghan security forces
In his opening remarks at the Conference, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown welcomed Karzai’s plan for an Afghan-led peace and reintegration initiative and stressed that it was a “decisive time” for Afghanistan.
"By the middle of next year, we have to turn the tide in the fight against the insurgency," said Brown.
He also noted that Afghanistan’s long-term security depended on the international community’s ability to speedily and effectively train and staff the Afghan security services.
Under his plan to secure Afghanistan, US Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top NATO military chief in Afghanistan, has proposed beefing up the Afghan army and police forces.
Speaking to foreign ministers, including NATO members participating in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Brown set targets for the increase in Afghan army and police forces.
He believes the combined Afghan army and police force should reach 300,000 by 2011, when US forces are expected to begin returning home – depending on the security situation on the ground.The 300,000 figure, he said, represents “a presence that is far bigger than our coalition forces”. At present there are some 100,000 international troops in Afghanistan.
New UN mission chief named
Thursday’s conference also focused on a “civilian surge” aimed at a comprehensive plan to reconstruct and develop the impoverished, war-torn nation.
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Days ahead of the summit, current UK ambassador to Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill was nominated as NATO’s top civilian official in Afghanistan. Sedwill, who will serve as a civilian counterpart to Gen. McChrystal, takes office after the conference.
In his speech on Thursday, UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon announced the appointment of Staffan de Mistura, a seasoned UN diplomat as the new UN chief in Afghanistan. De Mistura will replace outgoing chief, Kai Eide when he steps down in March.
The position came under intense scrutiny in the follow-up to the discredited Aug. 20 presidential elections in Afghanistan, when Eide was accused of favouring Karzai and downplaying extensive fraud during and after the elections.
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