MPs want ‘political’ Afghanistan solution

By Alex Stevenson

More US engagement in talks with the Taliban is needed to bring the conflict in Afghanistan to a close, MPs have said.

The Commons’ foreign affairs committee argued that political reconciliation in Afghanistan could be impeded by ongoing fighting with insurgents.

It wants Barack Obama’s administration to embrace dialogue with the Taliban in order to bring the conflict to an end.

“There is a danger that without appropriate political leadership, the current military campaign is in danger of inadvertently de-railing efforts to secure a political solution to what is essentially a political problem,” committee chair Richard Ottaway said.

“The US should not delay its significant involvement in talks with the Taliban leadership because, without US support in this respect, there can be no longer-term peace in Afghanistan.”

MPs argued that the core foreign policy justification for invading Afghanistan in 2001 – denying the country as a base for al-Qaida – “may have been achieved some time ago”.

The government disputes this, but today’s report said that the intelligence backing up their claim had not received proper parliamentary scrutiny.

“The situation in Afghanistan is constantly changing and in some cases has moved on from the evidence given,” foreign secretary William Hague said in response to the report.

“The government has been keeping parliament informed about developments in Afghanistan on a monthly basis.”

He welcomed the committee’s assessment that now is the right time to advance a political process in Afghanistan.

“We are building on recent military and civilian gains, the result of joint efforts by the Afghan government and the international community, to ensure progress towards a more stable and secure Afghanistan in 2011,” Mr Hague added.

Yesterday Afghan president Hamid Karzai visited David Cameron in Downing Street, as the UK pledged to increase its aid payments to Afghanistan.

Mr Cameron appeared enthusiastic in a joint press conference held yesterday lunchtime for more dialogue with the Taliban.

“The military campaign is only part of the equation on an Afghan-led process for reconciliation and reintegration,” he told reporters.

“It is time for the Taliban to start this journey and make this year a decisive year in Afghanistan.”

Mr Karzai is hoping the Afghan security forces will be able to take over more and more responsibilities from international soldiers in the coming years, as the 2015 withdrawal deadline for British troops approaches.

“Afghanistan will try its best to take the help that your provide to us and use it in a manner that will help the Afghan people create a peaceful future, and an Afghanistan which is not a burden on you as we move forward,” Mr Karzai told Mr Cameron.