Page last updated at 18:09 GMT, Thursday, 21 January 2010

Afghanistan's Karzai moots Taliban peace scheme

John Simpson
BBC World Affairs Editor

Afghan President Hamid Karzai: "We must have peace at any cost"

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has told the BBC he plans to introduce a scheme to attract Taliban fighters back to normal life by offering money and jobs.

He would offer to pay and resettle Taliban fighters to come over to his side, with the scheme funded by the international community.

He said the UK and US would show at a conference next week in London that they had decided to back his new plan.

Japan is one of the countries which, he said, is prepared to put up the money.

The Taliban currently pay their volunteers, who are often just farmers, significantly more than the Afghan government can afford to give its forces.

President Karzai said the Afghan people had to have peace at any price.

War was not the only way forward and there had to be proper peace activity and reconciliation.

Previously, he said, Britain, the US and other Western countries had not been happy about the idea. Now they had changed their minds.

He stressed that Taliban supporters who were members of al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks would not be accepted. But anyone who accepted the Afghan constitution and did not have an ideological opposition to it could return.

Lame duck perception

Doing deals with his enemies is a bold approach, but as President Karzai enters his second term of office he knows he must get an agreement.

My presidency is weak in regard to the means of power, which means money, which means equipment, which means manpower, which means capacity
Hamid Karzai

Many of his own people, as well as the Western powers, regard him as a lame-duck president.

In the past, his ability to run Afghanistan has been limited by the powers of the warlords, and by the high level of corruption.

With considerable frankness, he accepted that there was some truth in this.

"Yes," he said, "my presidency is weak in regard to the means of power, which means money, which means equipment, which means manpower, which means capacity."

The clear implication was that if he got these things, he could start to run the country as he wanted.

If there was agreement at next week's conference in London, Afghanistan would be in a position to run its own affairs.

In five years, he said, Afghanistan could be controlling its own security and leading the fight in the country against corruption and the drugs industry.

But he is still smarting from the heavy criticism he got from the Americans and British about the way last August's presidential election was run. He insists it was a concerted effort by the West to undermine him.

"Unfortunately our election was very seriously mistreated by our Western allies," he said.

Now, though, he had to depend on them to help him. Could he trust them?

"We trust them because we are in a relationship together," he replied.

President Karzai angrily rejected a suggestion earlier this week by a UN agency that nearly a quarter of Afghanistan's GDP was swallowed up by corruption.

Nevertheless, he said, "if you expect us to be a First World country, you are making a mistake".

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