Afghan President Hamid Karzai won regional support Tuesday for his efforts to cajole Islamist insurgents to lay down their arms, as Germany offered more troops and cash for the ravaged nation.
After talks with his Turkish and Pakistani peers, as well as officials from countries such as China, Iran and Russia, Karzai described moderate Taliban fighters as “sons of the Afghan soil” who should be brought back into the fold.
And in a joint statement after the meeting in Istanbul, the participants declared that they “support the Afghan national process of reconciliation and reintegration ... in a way that is Afghan-led and -driven”.
The Turkish-hosted talks form part of the build-up to a major conference in London on Thursday where Karzai hopes to secure Western support for his strategy of wooing Taliban fighters with the lure of jobs and money.
That strategy already appears to have won the endorsement of Germany, whose Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Tuesday that her government would ask parliament for another 500 troops for Afghanistan.
She said Berlin would also provide 50 million euros (70 million dollars) to a 500-million-dollar global fund to bring insurgents into the mainstream and roughly double development aid to 430 million euros.
Berlin currently has about 4,300 troops in Afghanistan. Merkel’s government wants to increase that by 500 as well as offer 350 reservists who could be deployed for a limited period.
Karzai meanwhile told reporters in Istanbul that the reintegration of Taliban followers was essential to national unity, provided they were not followers of Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network.
Although Merkel refrained from giving a withdrawal date, her foreign minister said Germany wants to start bringing its soldiers home in 2011.
“We are not going to name a withdrawal date but we support the Afghans in this aim,” Merkel told reporters.
And in a further sign of a shift in focus, diplomats said Britain’s ambassador in Kabul, Mark Sewill, was to be named as NATO’s new civilian representative in Afghanistan.