Miliband calls for majority of Taliban to be reintegrated into Afghan society
Andrew Sparrow – Gaurdian November 17, 2009
Britain wants to find a way to allow the "vast majority" of Taliban fighters who are not Islamic extremists to reintegrate into Afghan society, David Miliband said today.
The foreign secretary said that "dividing the insurgency" was a key part of Britain's strategy in Afghanistan and he stressed that he did not see the conflict there as a war "without end".
Addressing the Nato parliamentary assembly in Edinburgh, Miliband said that the military surge in Afghanistan had to be matched by a "political surge" that would allow the country to become free of al-Qaida and have good relations with its neighbours.
Miliband said that the Afghan insurgency was "not a monolith" and that Britain and her allies needed to show Taliban fighters that there was "a route back into society".
He added: "Some Afghan Taliban may be committed to global jihad. But the vast majority are not. Their primary commitment is to tribe and to locality. Our goal is not a fight to the death. It is to demonstrate clearly that they cannot win, and to provide a way back into their communities for those who are prepared to live peacefully."
Miliband said Britain supported plans for a "National Reintegration Organisation" that would help former combatants return to their homes.
"Once reintegration gains momentum, and the insurgency is starting to fray or crumble, we will need to support President [Hamid] Karzai in reaching out to those high-level commanders that can be persuaded to renounce al-Qaida and pursue their goals peacefully within the constitutional framework.
"This will be far from straightforward. But the historical lessons are clear. Blood enemies from the Soviet period and the civil war now work together in government."
Coming less than 24 hours after Gordon Brown used a speech at the lord mayor of London's banquet to raise the prospect of a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, Miliband used his Edinburgh address to provide more details of the way "a political surge can be turned from a cliche into a reality".
Miliband said Britain's political goals were clear. "It is to unite a critical mass of the key players behind shared goals – al-Qaida kept out, the different tribal groups kept on-side, and the neighbours prepared to play a constructive role in Afghanistan's future."
He identified three key parts to the strategy. As well as reintegrating Taliban fighters into Afghan society, Britain and her partners needed to reassure Afghan civilians that they faced a stable future.
"Less than 5% of Afghans want the Taliban back. This is our greatest strength. But they fear that the international community will tire of the war and the Taliban will return, inflicting brutal retribution on those who 'collaborated' with the government," Miliband said.
To provide reassurance, Britain wanted to strengthen governance in Afghanistan. Miliband said this would involve training, empowering and monitoring those responsible for governing the provinces and districts in the country.
The third element of the strategy involved supporting Afghanistan's neighbours, particularly Pakistan.
"The opportunity is to squeeze the life out of the terrorist threat from both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. That will happen only if Pakistan and the international community develop a new relationship based on a recognition of interdependence and shared interests," Miliband said.
The foreign secretary also said that he would be travelling to Kabul later this week for Karzai's inauguration on Thursday. He said that he and other western figures would be there "to act as witnesses to what should be a new contract between President Karzai and [his] people."
Miliband also said that Barack Obama was in the "final stages of his deliberations" about new US troop deployments to Afghanistan. The US president is expected to make an announcement within days.
"In the UK we support the prosecution of a serious counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan. We do not see that as an alternative to counterterrorism but as the best means to achieve it," Miliband said.
Last updated 19/11/2009