STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Hi, Steve, how you doing?
INSKEEP: I'm doing fine, thanks very much. Why Afghanistan, and why in London?
MONTAGNE: The last time a meeting of this size and scope was held was back in December of 2001, after the Taliban had been driven out of Afghanistan, and it was held in Bonn, Germany. And at that time, the international community and Afghan leaders - and those leaders include some of the most powerful warlords of Afghanistan - they more or less anointed Hamid Karzai president. And at the time, the foreign partners divvied up the various jobs of rebuilding Afghanistan's broken institutions. And so today they will, you might say, renew their vows.
INSKEEP: Although, of course, the very need for this conference suggests that the rebuilding hasn't necessarily taken. Are these countries as committed to Afghanistan this time around?
MONTAGNE: Some Taliban commanders, of course, have, over the years, quit the Taliban. They've joined in the political process. That's been an option for a long time. Not much going on there, although President Karzai has long spoken of reaching out to lower-level fighters and commanders. But now it's people like U.S. and NATO commanding General Stanley McChrystal who are speaking up for the need to communicate with the Taliban more formally, more openly. You know, he wants his own counter-insurgency strategy to work, and part of that, as he puts it, is giving Afghanistan back to the Afghans.
INSKEEP: Does talking more formally mean negotiating with someone like Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban?
MONTAGNE: No. That is not on the table. Talk of communicating specifically rules out Taliban leaders, those connected with al-Qaida and those who are considered - the word is unreconcilable. But, you know, one thing that is being proposed for those they think that can be brought around - which, of course, is a lot of lower level fighters - is a multi-million dollar fund to create jobs and other incentives to bring these guys off the battlefield and back into civil society. And Steve, Japan is actually expected to contribute much of the money for that fund.
INSKEEP: Okay. So some money is coming, and some troops, as well?
MONTAGNE: Yes. It was expected that this kind of meeting would give political cover to countries like Germany and France, where popular opinion has been opposed to the war in Afghanistan, and increasingly so. France's President Nicolas Sarkozy has already, in these last days, said no to more troops. But Germany, on the eve of the conference, did announce 850 additional troops, which is a sizable number.
INSKEEP: So that's what world leaders are doing. What about the man who's sovereign responsibility is supposed to be to govern Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai?
MONTAGNE: Karzai also this morning called on Saudi Arabia to play a more prominent role there. Saudi Arabia has hosted informal talks with the Taliban in the past. And Steve, these proposals come after a conference here in London held yesterday that was focused on another country the international community is concerned about, and that is Yemen.
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