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Afghanistan Conference Under Way In London


Afghan President Hamid Karzai (standing) shakes hands with British Foreign Minister David Miliband after making a speech at the opening session of the Afghanistan Conference in London on January 28.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (standing) shakes hands with British Foreign Minister David Miliband after making a speech at the opening session of the Afghanistan Conference in London on January 28.

An international conference to chart a new course for the future of Afghanistan is under way in London.

The one-day conference, hosted by Britain, the United Nations, and Afghan government, brings together foreign ministers and senior representatives from more than 70 countries.

The aim is to draft plans to hand over security responsibilities to local forces and to lure Taliban members to renounce violence.

In his opening speech, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the process of handover from international to Afghan control would begin later this year.

"This conference marks the beginning of the transition process, agreeing the necessary conditions under which we can begin -- district by district, province by province -- the transferring of responsibility for security from international forces to Afghan forces and Afghan people," Brown said.

Brown said both Afghan and international forces would meanwhile be strengthened.

He said the conference would set a target for Afghanistan to increase its military to 171,600 by October 2011 and boost police numbers to 134,000.

Afghan police and military would total more than 300,000, compared to 135,000 foreign troops in the country, he said.

Brown also said an international fund to provide an "economic alternative" for insurgents who renounce violence would be established.

But he said insurgents who refused to accept the conditions for reintegration would be pursued militarily.

"Today our message to Al-Qaeda must be clear," Brown said. "It is the same message we send to all those who pursue violent and extremist ideologies that pervert the true Islamic faith: We will defeat you, and we will defeat you not just on the battlefield, but in the hearts and minds of the peoples of this world and particularly people of Afghanistan."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the conference that his government would establish a national council for peace and reconciliation.

The move is to be followed by the convening of a loya jirga, or grand assembly of elders, to discuss reconciliation.

Karzai said Afghanistan "must reach out to all of our countrymen, especially to our disenchanted brothers, who are not part of Al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks, who accept the Afghan Constitution."

Karzai's reconciliation plan would offer jobs and economic incentives to moderate Taliban who renounce violence and abandon the insurgency.

Karzai also presented a six-point action plan in which he pledged improved governance and the eradication of corruption in his government.

"Fighting corruption will be the key focus of my second term in office," Karzai said. "My government is committed to fighting corruption with all means possible, including punishing those who commit it and rewarding those who avoid it."

Karzai also called on Saudi Arabia to play a prominent role in bringing peace to Afghanistan, and on neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan, to support efforts to achieve peace.

Ahead of the conference, Karzai said his country will need international support for up to 15 years. He told the BBC that the training and equipping of Afghan security forces would take up to five to 10 years, after which assistance will still be needed.

A follow-up conference is to be held in Kabul in a few months.

compiled from agency reports
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