Page last updated at 14:13 GMT, Monday, 27 July 2009 15:13 UK

Talk to Taliban, Miliband urges

David Miliband: 'We need to deny insurgents the space to operate'

David Miliband has urged the Afghan government to talk to moderate members of the Taliban as part of efforts to bring stability to the country.

In a speech to Nato, the UK foreign secretary said those insurgents willing to renounce violence should be included in a broad-based political coalition.

His comments came as it was confirmed the first phase of the UK-US offensive in southern Afghanistan has now ended.

The Tories said ministers must focus on a limited number of clear objectives.

'Heavy toll'

July has been the deadliest month for the UK and Nato after they launched Operation Panther's Claw - designed to take and secure land in Helmand province ahead of next month's presidential elections.

Mr Miliband said the operation had resulted in a "heavy toll" in terms of British deaths but "significant gains" had been made.

The Ministry of Defence said the first phase of the operation - which led directly to ten British deaths - is now over and that Nato troops would now be focusing on holding onto territory gained ahead of next month's elections.


Mr Miliband said the objectives of the UK's mission were clear but accepted the public "wanted to know whether and how we can succeed" in Afghanistan.

He said a viable political solution, alongside the military offensive, was essential to securing Afghanistan's future.

As part of this, Mr Miliband said current insurgents should be reintegrated into society and, in some cases, given a role in local and central government.

In doing so, he said a distinction should be drawn between "hard-line ideologues" and Jihaddist terrorists who must be fought and defeated from those who could be "drawn into a political process".

Switching sides

Those who had either been coerced or bribed into joining the insurgency could play a constructive role if they disowned violence and respected the Afghan constitution, he said.

"These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course."

Denying the approach marked a change of strategy, he added: "That means in the long term an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan - separating those who want Islamic rule locally from those committed to violent jihad globally - and giving them a sufficient role in local politics that they leave the path of confrontation with the government."

They have goals, we have goals. If we can both respect each other it is possible but depends on who is willing to give what
Wayne, Lancashire, UK

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall said the UK was clear the responsibility was on the Afghan government to show commitment to this process.

But the Conservatives said there was nothing new in Mr Miliband's speech, saying dialogue between Kabul and parts of the Taliban had taken place for years.

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said the UK must focus on clear objectives such as building up of the Afghan army and "ensuring that the gains won by British forces on the battlefield are swiftly followed by reconstruction".

For the Lib Dems, former leader Sir Menzies Campbell said Nato's evident lack of confidence in Afghan President Hamid Karzail could be a major stumbling block to reconciliation efforts.

"President Karzai shows no inclination for the kind of engagement with the Taliban that David Miliband envisages," he said.

"If Britain and America want to promote dialogue they will have to do it by working round Karzai and presenting him with a fait accompli."

Earlier, International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander compared the move to the talks that brought an end to the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Mr Alexander, who is in Afghanistan, conceded it was a "challenging" message for politicians to suggest when British troops were being killed in action but said he had "confidence in the good judgement of the British people" that such a move would ultimately be beneficial.

'Terror chain'

British commanders say key objectives have been achieved on the ground and Prime Minister Gordon Brown has paid tribute to the professionalism and courage of British troops involved in the mission.

"What we have done is make the land secure for about 100,000 people, push back the Taliban and start to break the chain of terror linking the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan to the streets of Britain," he said.

Although troops from other Nato members have been drawn into offensive action, Mr Miliband has called for other countries to contribute more.

He said the policy of burden-sharing must work in "practice" not just in theory.

So far in July, 67 international troops have been killed, bringing the number of coalition deaths in 2009 to 223.

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