x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Afghanistan security on the agenda in London

Afghan, Pakistani and British leaders meet to discuss troubled nation's future as concerns grow over Nato withdrawal. Omar Karmi reports from London

LONDON // The growing concern about the ability of the Afghan security forces to control the country once Nato troops withdraw next year has brought together the political and security leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the UK in London.

Salahuddin Rabbani, the chairman of the Afghan high peace council, today will join Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan, as well as their foreign ministers, chiefs of army staff and chiefs of intelligence to discuss how Pakistan and the wider international community can support Afghanistan after Nato troops leave next year.

It's the third set of talks for the leaders of the three countries since last summer.

But it is the first time that the security situation has been added to the political talks, according to a spokesman for David Cameron, the British prime minister, who is hosting the meeting.

While the United Kingdom, United States and others are diverting more resources to training Afghanistan's security forces in preparation for the withdrawal, the discipline and effectiveness of local troops are still very much in question.

An Afghan colonel told Britain's Mail on Sunday newspaper that his country's forces were still far from ready to take over.

The 2014 deadline for a full withdrawal was premature, said Colonel Amin Jan of the Afghan National Army, and would leave Afghan forces in a "difficult position".

As part of its preparation for complete withdrawal, Britain this year is due to bring home 3,800 of its 9,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan.

Col Jan, however, warned of a "global jihad" after the withdrawal, which would only boost the Taliban.

"We have enough soldiers," he said. "We have the quantity but we need the quality. We need more professional and better-trained commanders."

A domestic "reconciliation process" would be another focus of today's meetings, Mr Cameron's spokesman said. The Taliban is one of several factions being encouraged to join the political process to create some form of stability after international forces leave.

"[The] trilateral process sends a very clear message to the Taliban: now is the time for everyone to participate in a peaceful political process in Afghanistan," said the spokesman.

Last week, Mr Karzai warned Afghanistan's political factions not to circumvent the high peace council, the body in charge of bringing the country's political factions together at the a negotiating table. The council,he said, was the only way to move toward peace.

His remarks came after reports that Taliban representatives were holding talks independently with a number of Afghan warlords, as well as in Qatar with emissaries from other countries.

The Taliban has refused to deal directly with Mr Karzai's government and, last month, a statement simply attributed Mr Karzai's "irresponsible political existence" to "American protection".

Meanwhile, the man who sent British troops into Afghanistan in 2001 warned yesterday that the west's struggle against Al Qaeda and similar groups could last a generation and most resembled the struggle against "revolutionary communism".

Tony Blair, the former UK prime minister and now the Middle East peace process envoy, told the BBC the West had "no option" but to confront such militant groups.

"We always want, in the West, quite naturally, to go in and go out, and think there is a clean result," he said. "It's not going to happen like that. We now know that. It is going to be long and difficult and messy.

"My point is very simple though: if you don't intervene and let it happen, it is also going to be long, difficult and messy - and possibly a lot worse."


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