Page last updated at 11:40 GMT, Thursday, 28 January 2010

Afghanistan summit: Gordon Brown says 'tide must turn'

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said mid-2011 should be the deadline for "turning the tide" in the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan.

Speaking at a 70-nation London summit on the future of Afghanistan, he said the nations faced "a decisive time".

Before the talks began, President Hamid Karzai said Afghanistan could need foreign support for its security forces for up to 15 years.

He later announced plans to reintegrate some Taliban fighters into society.

The Taliban have ruled out talks until foreign forces leave Afghanistan.

Foreign ministers from around the world are expected to give renewed momentum to nation-building in Afghanistan during the one-day summit.

Martin Patience
Martin Patience, BBC Kabul correspondent
Talking with the Taliban is emerging as the big issue at the London conference. At first glance, it appears a simple idea - weaken the insurgency by luring away low and mid-level Taliban fighters.

This - it is argued - could be done by offering jobs and a general amnesty for the insurgents. But it will be difficult - if not impossible - to pull off.

Part of the problem is that international forces (and the Afghan government) are struggling to understand who they are fighting and what is actually fuelling the insurgency here.

And that raises the question: if you do not fully understand who you are fighting, can you hope to win them over?

"We must reach out to all our countrymen, especially our disenchanted brothers who are not part of al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks," Mr Karzai told the meeting.

Opening the conference, Mr Brown said it marked the "beginning of the transition process".

"By the middle of next year, we have to turn the tide in the fight against the insurgency," he said.

Pledging support for the expansion of the Afghan security forces, Mr Brown said: "We will agree today that the Afghan National Army will number 134,000 by October 2010, and 171,600 by October 2011.

"And similarly today we will commit to supporting a police reform plan, with Afghan national police numbers reaching 109,000 by October this year, and 134,000 by October 2011."

This would bring Afghan national security forces to 300,000, a presence far bigger than the coalition forces, Mr Brown said.

'Financially able'

The talks are being hosted by the UK, UN and the Afghan government.

In his address, Mr Karzai reiterated a long-standing call for King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to "kindly play a role to guide peace and assist the process".

Karzai pledges to tackle corruption

Senior Taliban figures have good contacts with Saudi Arabia and have been engaged in a series of secret peace talks there over the years since they lost power in Afghanistan in 2001.

BBC international development correspondent David Lyon says that in calling for Saudi involvement in an Afghan loya jirga (tribal council) in the spring, the first major tribal meeting for eight years, Mr Karzai is signalling that there may be a wider peace deal involving more key Taliban figures.

Speaking to the BBC before the talks got under way, Mr Karzai said that five to 10 years would be enough time to train and equip the Afghan security forces.

But he added: "With regard to sustaining them until Afghanistan is financially able to provide for our forces, the time may be extended to 10 to 15 years."

Donor countries are expected to set up a fund to help lure Taliban members back into Afghan society.

An Afghan man

But Mr Brown told the BBC any effort to reintegrate insurgents could work only if Afghanistan's own army and police were strong enough to take charge of security from international forces.

"The first thing is to strengthen the Afghan forces, and then to weaken the Taliban by dividing them," he said.

"You cannot have a situation where you are making advances to those people who are prepared to renounce violence and join the democratic process and say they will have nothing more to do with the activities they have been involved with in the past unless you have a strong Afghan army and police."

Mr Karzai has won general support for his reintegration plan, but Western nations are expected to ask for more details on the strategy at the summit.

The proposed fund would help reintegrate defecting foot soldiers with the promises of jobs, cash and protection.

Anti-corruption drive

Mr Karzai outlined a six-point plan to take his country forward, saying in his address he was deeply grateful for the international support his country had been given and Afghan people would not forget the sacrifices that had been made.

Karzai quizzed over warlords

He said good governance and fighting corruption would be the key focus of his action plan.

Corruption is seen by ordinary Afghans as one of the biggest problems in the country, surveys have found. It has also been a long-standing concern among Afghanistan's Western backers.

One of Mr Karzai's most significant proposals is the creation of an external watchdog composed of anti-corruption experts from around the world.

Hard fighting ahead

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the timing of the London conference is critical.

According to most military analysts the Taliban is riding high, but the US surge in forces is under way and weeks and months of hard fighting lie ahead, our correspondent says.

More work will be done on bolstering Afghanistan's own security forces, as well as setting goals on development and governance and a renewed emphasis on setting Afghanistan's problems in a wider regional framework.

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

Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has named a long-serving UN diplomat, Staffan de Mistura, as his new representative in Afghanistan.

Mr De Mistura, who holds Swedish and Italian nationalities, will replace the outgoing head of the UN mission in Kabul, Kai Eide, when he steps down in March.

Mr Eide was accused by a colleague of being too close to President Karzai and his government, and of downplaying fraud during presidential elections last year. Mr Eide always denied the allegations.

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