Taliban 'should join Afghanistan peace process'

David Cameron and Hamid Karzai urge the Taliban to come forward for peace talks

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The Taliban should engage in the political process if they want a role in Afghanistan's future, British Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

Speaking in the country during a one-day visit to UK troops, he said he wanted to see a political as well as a security solution to the conflict.

He said the Taliban must know they need to give up their arms.

But he emphasised that the peace process "must be Afghan-owned; it must be Afghan-led".

At a joint press conference in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Mr Cameron stressed that the country's future was in the hands of the Afghan people.

Analysis

In Helmand, the signs of a combat mission drawing gradually to a close are visible in many places on this Armed Forces Day.

Today, just 13 British bases are left in Helmand, out of 137 last year. While some 8,000 UK troops remain, there will be just over 5,000 by the end of this year.

Little wonder then, that Nato commanders from many of the allied nations are trying to focus political leaders' thoughts on the legacy they will leave here.

Serving on the Nato mission in Afghanistan is now less about the fight than helping local Afghan forces do their jobs. But there are widespread fears that the Taliban will be emboldened yet further in its attacks.

As Nato losses fall, the Afghan forces face a rising casualty toll - concentrating minds on what those forces still need, from continuing help with medical evacuation to supply chain systems and air support.

The challenge now is to ensure western support for Afghanistan continues after 2014, and that promises made in earlier days are kept.

They're keen that political leaders focus again on Afghanistan, and Operation Resolute Support, Nato's plans for what happens after 2014.

The end of the combat mission is in sight. Yet Afghans say their Nato allies mustn't walk away at that point, but stay to help them on the road to peace - hard and winding though it remains.

"I believe that the Taliban, watching all this progress, are beginning to realise that they are not going to secure a role in Afghanistan's future through terror and violence but by giving up their arms and engaging in a political process.

"But let me make absolutely clear this peace process is for Afghanistan to determine.

"It must be Afghan-owned; it must be Afghan-led. There is no other agenda that Britain has, that America has, that any country in the West has - no other agenda other than your stability, your security and your prosperity, that is why we wish this peace process well, but it must be your peace process, not anybody else's."

President Karzai said violent attacks by Taliban, like the one on the presidential palace several days ago, would not deter Afghans from seeking peace.

"We have had them killing the Afghan people but we still ask for peace. This was peanuts, comparatively speaking. Quite an irrelevant attack.

"We are more concerned when they attack the Afghan civilians; we are more concerned when they attack Afghan schools and children. I wish they would spend all their time attacking the presidential palace and leave the rest of the country alone."

The incident came just days after representatives of the Taliban opened an office in Qatar's capital, ostensibly for starting negotiations about a peace process. The US also announced it would begin formal talks to be followed by the direct Afghan talks.

Tactical hindsight

Mr Cameron spoke after comments came the most senior British soldier in Afghanistan, Gen Nick Carter, said the Taliban should have been invited to the negotiating table in 2002, soon after they were removed from power.

Gen Carter told the Guardian it would have been easier to find a political solution when the Taliban were "on the run" in 2002.

"I think that at that stage, if we had been very prescient, we might have spotted that a final political solution to what started in 2001, from our perspective, would have involved getting all Afghans to sit at the table and talk about their future.

"The problems that we have been encountering over the period since then are essentially political problems, and political problems are only ever solved by people talking to each other."

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff said, on Saturday, that it was easy to make comments with hindsight.

"I think to say 'did we miss a trick' will be for the historians to judge.

"The fact is... the military has been there deployed in their request as part of the International Security Assistance Force for over a decade, as part of a UN and a Nato mandate, and with many other nations we have set the conditions for politics to play a part.

"And so really I think the general's remarks are in the context of politics now playing a part in the future of Afghanistan."

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