Karzai to promote new peace plan in visit to Washington

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The Independent US

Afghan president Hamid Karzai will arrive in Washington today with a new peace plan that he hopes will persuade a sceptical Barack Obama that it is time to negotiate with the Taliban.

After months of criticising the Afghan leader, the visit is an opportunity for the US to attempt to improve a relationship that has dramatically worsened since President Obama came to power. It comes as diplomats prepare for a grand council of tribal leaders in Afghanistan.

The US will hope to resolve some of the major disagreements that still dog the White House strategy in Afghanistan. As well as the question of how tightly to yoke US strategy to the personal leadership of Mr Karzai, whose administration stands accused of tolerating corruption, administration advisers are also split on how best to deal with moderate Taliban leaders.

The draft peace proposal drawn up by the Afghan government is an effort to persuade insurgents to abandon their fight against US and Afghan forces before US troops begin leaving the country in the middle of next year.

Taliban leaders could be offered exile overseas, and their organisations offered the chance of participating in the political process, if they cut ties with terrorist groups such as al-Qa'ida.

"We are weary of war and division, and we have shed too many tears. Out of division let us build unity. Let us reintegrate and reconcile to achieve the stability and prosperity that have eluded us for too long," the plan says, according to a copy obtained by Reuters.

"The package for these levels may include: addressing the problem of sanctuaries, measures for outreach and removal from the UN sanction list, ensuring severance of links with al-Qa'ida ... and potential exile to a third country."

Mr Karzai's visit to Washington was arranged in March when Mr Obama made a short trip to the Afghan capital, Kabul, and comes ahead of a grand council, or jirga, of 1,500 tribal leaders which will discuss how to make peace.

The Taliban have rejected peace overtures in recent years, saying they will engage only if foreign troops leave. The new draft plan foresees reintegration of the foot soldiers, small groups and local leaders who form the bulk of the insurgency, and it proposes "deradicalisation classes" and manual jobs for insurgents who renounce violence.

In Washington, officials are split about how effective a peace-making effort could be at a stage when the US is still ramping up a temporary troop surge in Afghanistan. Tensions between the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, and the senior US military commander in the country, General Stanley McChrystal, will also feed into the talks with Mr Karzai this week. Mr Eikenberry has resisted some experiments designed to form ad hoc military alliances with anti-Taliban groups and pushed for more long-term support for economic development that could bolster the popularity of the Afghan government.

Ahead of his visit, beginning today, Mr Karzai penned an editorial in the Washington Post over the weekend in which he asked for more support for government troops and government institutions, as well as stronger efforts to limit the civilian casualties that were undermining support for the US-led coalition.

But he expressed thanks for US sacrifices in Afghanistan and for support from Nato, and the US is expected to respond by rolling out the red carpet for his visit this week. President Obama has ordered an end to public criticism of Mr Karzai's leadership.