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British Foreign Secretary Outlines Afghan Strategy In Brussels

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband urged the future Afghan government to initiate a grassroots strategy to reconcile with and reintegrate insurgents.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has delivered a major speech on Afghanistan at NATO headquarters in Brussels, with an emphasis on reconciliation with elements of the insurgency.

Miliband began his 30-minute speech by saying that the Western public remains supportive of the effort to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, and to prevent the return of Al-Qaeda, but "wanted to know whether and how we can succeed."

In what was touted as a "common sense" speech, Miliband presented the Afghan insurgency as a complex mixture of organizations and groups, with diverse interests and objectives, that were only cooperating tactically.

He also called for greater emphasis on understanding the motives of local Afghan actors who support the insurgency. "People are drawn into the insurgency for different reasons. And those reasons are primarily pragmatic rather than ideological," Miliband said.

"There are foot soldiers who the Taliban pay $10 a day -- more than a local policemen. There are poppy farmers who support the insurgents because they support protection against eradication efforts. There are narcotraffickers who rely on them for safe passage of drugs," Miliband continued.

"There are warlords and aspirant powerbrokers who believe that the Talban will win, and so position themselves for their own political advantage. An then, perhaps most crucially, there are the ordinary Afghans -- people who despite dreading the Taliban return -- worry about the capacity of the state to protect them and so hedge their bets."

Grassroots Governance

To address such a complex insurgency, Miliband urged the future Afghan government to initiate a grassroots strategy to reconcile with and reintegrate insurgents, with an emphasis on "separating those who want Islamic rule locally from those committed to violent jihad globally."

"The Afghan government needs effective, grassroots initiatives to offer an alternative to 'fight or flight' for the foot soldiers of the insurgency," Miliband said. "Essentially, this means clear a route for former insurgents to return to their villages and go back to farming the land or a role for some of them within the legitimate Afghan security forces."

Miliband's call for reconciliation came as Kabul struck a cease-fire deal with the Taliban in the northwestern Badghis Province. The deal is a first of its kind aimed at quelling the violence that has spiked as U.S., British, and German troops engage in major operations in the insurgent hotbeds in the south and north of the country.

Miliband said that to successfully defeat the insurgency, Afghanistan needs to deliver better governance. While highlighting the coalition's relative success in training the Afghan military and police forces, he called for improved governance at the local level.

"Alongside security forces, Afghans look for the basics of authority -- that means effective governors in each of the country's 34 provinces and the appointment by them of credible leaders of the 364 districts," Miliband said, "but also local government that is credible, competent, and clean, properly supported and resourced from Kabul and working with the grain of local tribal structures and history."

'Political Problems Require Political Solutions'

Miliband called on Afghanistan's neighbors to look for an open and responsible stake in its future. He called for "Pakistan and Iran [to] accept Afghanistan's future not as a client of any."

While praising Islamabad's recent military success against the Taliban insurgency and increased cooperation with Afghanistan and the Western coalition, Miliband said Afghan insurgent leaders based in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Peshawar continue to help guide the insurgency.

He urged Islamabad to militarily address all the militants "who shelter Al-Qaeda and those who threaten the Pakistani state." But he also urged Islamabad to prioritize political reforms and development in its counterinsurgency strategy.

Miliband said that the people of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) "need a clear road map towards proper inclusion in the Pakistani state with the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens.

"The lack of governance and justice in FATA -- an inheritance from British rule, but something which has not been addressed in 60 years of independence -- as well as in parts of the Northwest Frontier Province -- create a vacuum which insurgents can exploit. Once again, political problems require political solutions."

With 20 British deaths in the southern Helmand Province this month, Miliband called on his NATO allies to contribute more to the military efforts.

"Burden sharing is a founding principle of the alliance, the solidarity in which the alliance is built. It needs to be honored in practice as well as in theory by all of us," he said.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan.