Economy is key to beating Taliban, says Afghan leader

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The Independent Online

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has warned that his country remains seriously threatened by instability and lack of economic development, which in turn poses a threat to the entire region.

Opening a conference in Delhi on reconstruction in Afghanistan, Mr Karzai said extremism and violence by militant groups remained a fearsome challenge five years after his government took office. The insurgency by the Taliban, which was ousted from power after al-Qa'ida used Afghanistan as a base for the 9/11 attacks, has gained strength this year, particularly in the south, where British and Canadian forces have been engaged in heavy fighting.

Pakistan and Iran are among several of Afghanistan's neighbours attending the conference, which is aimed at obtaining regional support for the Afghan economy. But both countries are accused of interfering in the country's affairs, particularly Pakistan, which regularly trades invective with Mr Karzai's government over its allegations of Pakistani support for the Taliban.

If Afghanistan's economy were more developed, said Mr Karzai, there would be less support for the Taliban insurgency, and fewer farmers would turn to the booming opium trade. His country's plight was underlined by flash floods in western Afghanistan, which a local official said yesterday had killed more than 50 people and damaged 3,000 homes, and a warning from the UN's World Food Programme that it was short of the funds it needs to feed millions of Afghans during the winter.

As Nato troops prepared to airlift aid to the flood-hit region, much of which is inaccessible by road, the WFP spokesman, Ebadullah Ebadi, told the BBC it had received only a third of the funds requested and any extra money would be too late for those in need.

"We are really concerned," he said. "If we don't have food on time , their lives will be at risk ... If we do not have food on time, we cannot help those people."

He said a further three million Afghans not covered by the WFP were also threatened by food shortages, while almost two million people had been affected by drought, which has wiped out much of the wheat crop in the south and west.