MILLIONS of dollars are being sought at this week's London Conference on Afghanistan to pay off the Taliban leadership, NATO's secretary-general said yesterday.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it was necessary to "establish a trust to finance the reintegration programme" that would persuade the militants to lay down their weapons.
Among those due to attend tomorrow's meeting are US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton; secretary-general of the UN, Ban Ki-moon; and leaders from 70 nations including the 43 countries that contribute to the NATO force in Afghanistan.
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, who will pledge to tackle government corruption, will present a plan at the conference for reconciliation with senior Taliban leaders.
But the proposals will require huge amounts of money to pay for new jobs, pensions, land and even fund the relocation of senior militants abroad.
Mr Rasmussen said: "Without assistance from the international community it will not be possible to accomplish that programme."
Asked if this was to raise millions of dollars to pay off the Taliban, he said: "I will put it another way. We need funds to provide people with better alternatives for a fruitful occupation rather than fighting for the Taliban. Call it promotion of economic opportunity for people in Afghanistan, creation of new jobs."
His comments came the day after the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, said it was "inevitable" that talks would open with the Taliban once the current surge of an extra 30,000 American troops and 7,000 other NATO personnel forced them to the negotiating table.
Chancellor Angela Merkel announced yesterday that Germany would increase its troop level by 500.
The surge -- which will bring NATO forces to almost 150,000 -- will begin soon, with a major offensive against the Taliban in Helmand.
Speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Mr Rasmussen admitted the mission in Afghanistan had been "under-resourced from the outset" and the international community had "underestimated" the size of the challenge.
He said thousands more Afghans were now being recruited into the army and police to take over security eventually, but he refused to give a timeline for NATO's withdrawal. Mr Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister, also urged people to be patient.
"I do realise that we are met with negative news. I am not complaining about that because the security situation is definitely not satisfactory. We have to explain to people that our soldiers do make a difference on the ground," he said.
"They do not fight in vain. I understand very well that people are impatient, that they want to see progress.
"But if we allowed Afghanistan once again to become a safe haven for terrorists [that could] easily spread to the rest of world, not to speak of destabilising Pakistan, a nuclear power. That could be very dangerous." (© Daily Telegraph, London)