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30 Jan, 2010 03:43

Bribing Taliban

Plans to convert the Taliban fighters to the peaceful life dominated the minds of those world leaders trying to mend the failing military operation in Afghanistan.

But offering a $140 million trust fund to a country ravaged with corruption brought doubts the money won't end up in Taliban pockets the other way. And the last day of discussions in Davos isn't likely to resolve the concerns.

A new strategy for engagement in Afghanistan, is what leaders are calling a political solution to complement the military surge. And part of that strategy is a controversial decision to give nearly $140 million to buy off moderate members of the Taliban.

Friday in Davos saw key figures involved in the war meet to follow up on Thursday's London conference.

Many delegates come to Davos year after year. It's hard to imagine what would have been the reaction at the World Economic Forum in 2002, just months after 9/11, if you'd said foreign ministers from 60 countries had agreed to pay the Taliban, widely believed to be connected with Al-Qaeda.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband defends the plan as instrumental in rebuilding the Afghan nation, where nearly ten thousand British troops are currently fighting.

“No one’s talking about bribing our way out of the insurgency.” said Miliband. “What we’re talking about is the Afghan government having the proper resources to create employment, to create infrastructure and to support a redevelopment programme, and for those members of the insurgency that are fighting against their communities, we want them inside their communities.”

Part of the strategy involves buying off low and mid-level Taliban fighters by offering them cash and jobs in return for laying down their arms. But opposition leader Dr Abdullah Abdullah says the fighters aren’t for sale.

“I think they have not put themselves up for sale, so they will not be bought that way. I think it will be rather more sensible to reach out to those people in those areas where the Taliban are operating and not to create circumstances where they are leaving the government and joining the Taliban; so create better circumstances in those areas with good governance, with rule of law, with bringing justice and developmental services.”

It's certainly not a strategy that's guaranteed to work – in fact some experts say it amounts to throwing good money after bad.

"It’s a common practice of all the alliance members in Afghanistan that they hand out weapons of all kinds as gifts, as payment to their Afghan proxies, and that means that these weapons end up in the market,” said Christoph Horstel, government and business consultant. “They’re being sold by the people. Anybody can buy them and that’s how the Taliban get them. Another part is that we know that our American friends, for example, have aided the Taliban and delivered truckloads of all kinds of goods – tents, food and weapons and ammunition to the Taliban. And that’s also again being used against the allied troops in Afghanistan.”

Those on the ground in Afghanistan are unlikely to welcome the move either. US soldiers say millions of dollars are finding their way out of Afghanistan every day, and corruption is rife.

“It’s an independent report, not something that I have personal knowledge of, but the idea that $10 million of donor money is leaving Afghanistan every single day for parts unknown,” said Andy Veres, a US soldier in Afghanistan. “It is certainly very, very possible that the same arms that were intended to arm the Afghan national police or army are landing up in the black market.”

If that’s the case, and the level of corruption remains the same, it will take just 2 weeks for what officials are calling the $140 million “trust fund” for Afghanistan to vanish into the thin, mountain air.

Anand Gopal, author from The Nation magazine, thinks after eight years in Afghanistan it is clear a political solution is the key.

“One of the things that really bred a lot of hatred amongst Afghans is the practice of the US soldiers of going to people’s homes in the middle of the night and taking away their loved ones, often on the slightest of suspicions,” Gopal told RT. “Often these people are taken to a series of prisons across the country and sometimes are released, sometimes are held indefinitely, and this really turned a lot of people against the Americans. Seven-eight years ago, people greeted Americans as liberators of the country, but now the tide is turning, unfortunately, because of these reactions.”