Canadian envoy cautions wooing Taliban may leave others feeling put out

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Canada’s top envoy in Afghanistan warns wooing the Taliban could backfire on coalition forces if peaceful Afghans feel put out.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Canada’s top envoy in Afghanistan warns wooing the Taliban could backfire on coalition forces if peaceful Afghans feel put out.

William Crosbie, Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan, told reporters Sunday the gesture is pointless if others perceive the Taliban as being favoured.

A scheme to lure moderate militants from the insurgency’s more radical elements emerged from a recent international conference in London.

The plan involves paying out hundreds of millions of dollars to low-and mid-level Talibs in the hopes they’ll defect.

Jobs and vocational training to militants who lay down their arms would also be offered under the scheme.

But Crosbie cautioned against any move that makes ordinary Afghans feel like the Taliban are getting a better deal than they are.

“There’s no point developing some kind of a fund to which former insurgents are eligible if we’re not equally providing support to Afghans who are not part of the insurgency now,” he said.

“So we don’t want to create the impression that somehow if you’re a member of the insurgency that you would be uniquely be able to benefit from the fund.”

“On the other hand, the fund can be used to complement and supplement the economic development efforts that we have underway already.”

Other efforts to entice the Taliban to stop fighting generally haven’t worked. Past incentives have tended to attract low-level fighters, many of whom eventually return to the ranks of the insurgency.

It’s hoped this new Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund, to which international allies have pledged at least $500 million, will be enough to lure tens of thousands of insurgents from the Taliban for good.

Canada is taking a wait-and-see approach before deciding whether to contribute to the fund.

“It’s not simply a question of the fund. It’s the process for reconciliation,” Crosbie said.

“We are concerned that the process needs to be one that enjoys the support of Afghan society. Some Afghans, including Afghan women, have expressed concerns that reconciliation should not be at the expense of their rights, and of the gains that have been made with the new constitution.

“We’ve also pointed out that the reconciliation process needs to set down clear lines for who would be eligible, and who would not.”

Afghanistan’s president shed some more light Sunday on who exactly he is reaching out to.

Hamid Karzai, in his first news conference since returning from London, said he is willing to reconcile with the Taliban’s leadership — as much as they are willing to — but that he will not embrace any member of the terrorist network al-Qaida.

“We are trying our best to reach as high as possible to bring peace and security,” Karzai said.

The Taliban have so far rebuffed the overture.

A statement posted on a Taliban website last week said their fighters wouldn’t be swayed by financial incentives.

One of the Taliban’s demands before any peace talks are held is for international troops to leave the country.

But Karzai called that an unrealistic demand, saying coalition forces should remain in Afghanistan until they rid the country of al-Qaida and other terrorist threats.

Canadian Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard, who heads coalition forces in Kandahar, had another take on reconciliation with the insurgents.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, he said the aim is to win over the general population, not the insurgency.

“I’m not trying to convince these guys at all,” Menard said.

“But it’s their decision. They can join (non-militants), and live happily. Or they can run. Because you know what? That’s the only way they will live.”

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