Canada puts cash towards poppy fight

OTTAWA — Canada will nearly double its funding for the war against drugs in Afghanistan, but isn’t ready to contribute cash to pay for negotiations with the Taliban.

OTTAWA — Canada will nearly double its funding for the war against drugs in Afghanistan, but isn’t ready to contribute cash to pay for negotiations with the Taliban.

Canada will contribute an extra $25 million to fight the spread of Afghanistan’s illicit poppy crop — the backbone of the global heroin trade — on top of a previous contribution of $30 million, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Thursday from London.

Cannon was representing Canada at an international meeting on Afghanistan. Delegates were plotting the eventual Western exit from the strife-torn country amid rising military casualties and growing public opposition after more than eight years of war.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai told delegates from about 70 countries and world bodies that he wants to convene a peace conference in his country to lure Taliban fighters to renounce violence.

“We must reach out to all our countrymen, especially our disenchanted brothers who are not part of al-Qaida or other terrorist networks,” Karzai told the conference.

International allies have said they will pledge at least $500 million for the reconciliation fund. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Americans would back it if insurgents pledge to renounce violence and ties to al-Qaida, and embrace democracy.

Clinton said the U.S. military has been “authorized to use substantial funds to support the effort,” but did not say how much the U.S. would give to the money pool — dubbed the “Taliban Trust Fund” by some.

Karzai’s government has for years backed talks with less militant members of the insurgency, but Kabul and Western allies all agree that there is no prospect that hardened al-Qaida leaders such as Taliban leader Mullah Omar could ever be coaxed to a negotiating table.

The Taliban has routinely dismissed Karzai’s reconciliation plans, saying in a statement posted to their website Wednesday that their fighters wouldn’t be swayed by financial incentives.

Cannon said Canada will have to wait and see before it considers contributing funds.

The Harper government’s position on negotiations with the Taliban has evolved over four years in power from dogmatic denunciations of any effort to “talk” to terrorists, to a growing acceptance of the more nuanced international view that some low-level and less-ideologically driven fighters can be persuaded to change sides.

Karzai also said Thursday he still expects foreign troops to stay in his country for up to a decade more.

It’s a timetable that appeared to clash with the views of Canada and many of its allies, who are keen to see their troops hand over security responsibilities to Afghan forces sooner rather than later.

“With regard to training and equipping the Afghan security forces, five to 10 years will be enough,” Karzai told the BBC in an interview.

“With regard to sustaining them until Afghanistan is financially able to provide for our forces, the time will be extended to 10 to 15 years.”

Cannon affirmed the Canadian Forces withdrawal deadline of its 2,800 troops from Kandahar by 2011, which he reiterated was approved by Parliament.

“By the middle of next year, we have to turn the tide in the fight against the insurgency,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told delegates.