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Up to 80 percent of Afghan Taliban not hardcore: UK

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - There is no room for compromise with hardcore Afghan Taliban but the Afghan government and its allies hope to lure away many of the up to 80 percent of Taliban who joined for economic reasons, a British minister said.

British Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell (L) talks with a soldier from the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh during a training exercise, ahead of their deployment to Afghanistan, at Dale Barracks in Chester, northern England in this December 3, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Phil Noble

At a conference in London last week, Afghanistan’s allies backed its efforts to start talks with the Taliban and donors promised hundreds of millions of dollars for a fund to pay fighters to lay down their arms.

The luring away of militant foot-soldiers is referred to as reintegration while efforts to make peace with Taliban leaders is being called reconciliation.

Many analysts doubt that either the reintegration or reconciliation drive will have much success, at least as long as the Taliban believe they are winning the war.

British armed forces minister Bill Rammell told reporters in Islamabad on Wednesday “reconciliation” suggested a setting out of positions and a meeting in the middle.

“On the fundamentals, i.e. violence, direct assault, terrorist attacks on innocent civilians, on our forces, there is no room for compromise, there is no middle way,” Rammell said.

“It’s got to be about a rejection of that violent approach and that’s why I talk about reintegration and not reconciliation.”

He did not expect Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar to give up his fight.

“The focus of our reintegration efforts are those members of the Taliban who are prepared to renounce violence ... I don’t believe Mullah Omar is in that position.”

But he said only about 20 percent of the Taliban were “hardcore, ideological jihadists,” while 80 percent had joined for various reasons, largely as a means of making a living.

U.S. intelligence and military chiefs offered on Tuesday mixed assessments of the Afghan war, acknowledging the Taliban’s reach is expanding but pointing to signs of progress as more U.S. soldiers arrive.

Meanwhile, Western countries, eyeing an exit from an eight-year-old war that they no longer believe has a purely military solution, are more amenable than ever to a role for rehabilitated Taliban.

Similar programmes in the past have lured away only a trickle of fighters.

But Rammell, meeting defense officials in Pakistan after visiting Afghanistan, said conditions were different with a much bigger foreign force in Afghanistan wearing down the insurgents.

“If you look at the military pressure, I think there are a lot of indications that the Taliban are coming under pressure. Their own confidence, their own morale is being dented by the impact of coalition and Afghan force operations,” he said.

Britain, with 9,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, is the second-biggest contributor of troops after the United States.

Reporting by Robert Birsel; Editing by Sugita Katyal