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International meeting agrees to step up Afghan political push

JEDDAH (Reuters) - An international conference on Afghanistan agreed on Thursday to step up efforts to reach a settlement to the Afghan war by shifting toward a political rather than military approach to Afghanistan.

“We want to rebalance the focus we had so far on the military approach,” Michael Steiner, Germany’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who chaired the meeting, said.

“... it does not suffice because there will be no military solution ... we need to put more emphasis on the political approach. We need to rebalance the focus from military to political.”

The meeting of the International Contact Group on Afghanistan was hosted by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and attended by more than 40 countries in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a speech last month that Washington was “launching a diplomatic surge to move this conflict toward a political outcome that shatters the alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaeda ...”

The United States has long said there would have to be a political settlement to the Afghan war but insisted that military pressure was needed to bring insurgents to the negotiating table.

Critics of its strategy say the intense military campaign is radicalizing and fragmenting the insurgency in ways which would make it harder to reach an eventual peace deal, as well as alienating ordinary Afghans angered by civilian casualties.

Official sources from several countries say talks are already underway with Taliban insurgents, although these have yet to find shape in any kind of formal peace process.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday it could take one to three years to reach a resolution.

The Jeddah meeting was attended by U.S. special envoy Marc Grossman, who replaced Richard Holbrooke who died last year.

Reporting by Asma Alsharif, writing by Myra MacDonald, editing by Matthew Jones