Karzai to seek removal of Taliban from UN blacklist

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he will press for Taliban names to be removed from a UN blacklist, as peace overtures intensified Monday heading into a London conference.

The Afghan leader will win backing from world powers at the conference on Thursday for his plan to offer money and jobs to cajole Taliban fighters into laying down arms, according to US envoy Richard Holbrooke.

Karzai, who first disclosed his peace overtures last week, added Monday following talks with Turkish and Pakistani leaders that he would seek to have Taliban leaders who break with Al-Qaeda and lay down the arms struck from the UN blacklist.

"I will be making a statement at the conference in London to the effect of removing Taliban names from the UN sanctions list," the Afghan leader told reporters.

The idea had previously met resistance but "as we are talking today, there is more willingness that this can be reconsidered," he said.

The list targeting Taliban and Al-Qaeda individuals and entities contains some 500 names, including 142 linked to the Afghan extremist group, according the Austrian UN mission which maintains the list.

The move is seen as another step towards persuading militants to accept peace talks.

The White House was noncommittal about Karzai's latest proposal, but noted US military leaders had drawn parallels between the Afghan leader's reintegration proposal and those the United States used with some Iraqi groups.

Karzai wants to bring low- and mid-level fighters into mainstream society to end the gruelling insurgency but the leadership of Islamist insurgent groups active in the battered country is hostile to negotiations.

Holbrooke, the special US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan said the 65 nations meeting in London on Thursday would back Kabul's proposal to set up a reintegration fund to persuade Taliban fighters to lay down arms.

"The reintegration programme that President (Hamid) Karzai is announcing and the international community will support is an opportunity for people fighting at the local commander level to stop fighting, come in from the cold and rejoin Afghan society -- if they renounce Al-Qaeda," he said.

The NATO military commander in Afghanistan has also voiced support for negotiated peace.

"As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there's been enough fighting," US General Stanley McChrystal said in an interview with Britain's Financial Times published Monday.

"I believe that a political solution to all conflicts is the inevitable outcome. And it's the right outcome."

Karzai's proposals come as the United States and other allies aim for an eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan, after eight years of battling a brutal Islamist insurgency.

While US President Barack Obama in December ordered an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan this year -- on top of more than 70,000 already there -- Western allies have been increasingly looking to hand over security responsibility to Afghan forces.

The United States also intends to step up non-military assistance, with the US State Department outlining last week  new civilian strategy to stabilise Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, which includes improving the farm sector and governance in the two nations.

Karzai was in Istanbul for talks with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday to be followed by a meeting with leaders of his country's neighbours on Tuesday.

It was the fourth round of Turkish-sponsored fence-mending talks between the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2007, with Ankara pushing the two neighbours to enhance cooperation against Islamist insurgents.

Relations between Kabul and Islamabad became strained as Taliban and other extremists who fled the US-led ouster of Afghanistan's Taliban regime in late 2001 found a safe haven in Pakistan's northwestern tribal regions.

Tuesday's meeting, to be hosted by Gul, will gather Karzai and Zardari and senior officials from Iran, China, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, a Turkish official said.

 

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