David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, has defended a plan to pay off the Taliban while British soldiers continue to die in Helmand province. A process of reintegration for the Taliban was the centrepiece yesterday of the London conference on Afghanistan, which also set a tentative timeline for a transition of authority to the Afghan Government and a withdrawal of Western troops. A communiqu issued at the end of the conference set a period of five years for Afghan troops to take control of security in the country, but President Karzai said that such a process might take 15 years. The Afghan President told delegates from more than 60 countries that he wished to reach out to all of the disenchanted brothers in the Taliban. He then invited Taliban representatives to a Peace Jirga assembly in Kabul in the coming weeks and asked King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to act as an intermediary. Mr Miliband defended the 500 million fund to induce the Taliban to lay down weapons and cut ties with al-Qaeda. I think the soldiers families from every part of the coalition, as well as the families of the Afghan soldiers, would want the war to end as soon as possible, he said. I do not accept that the reintegration fund has been established simply to rent back those insurgents who are currently being paid $10 to $30 a day to fight for the insurgents. That fund will help ensure the employment, the infrastructure of a serious drive for political engagement that will offer long-term security for communities in Afghanistan. President Karzais apparent willingness to embrace negotiation appeared to be at odds with a tougher Western vision of how talks might develop. Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, said that any reconciliation with the Taliban leader was probably a bridge too far. Mullah Muhammad Omar had the blood of thousands of Americans on his hands after giving safe haven to al-Qaeda to launch the September 11 attacks in 2001. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said: We will be pursuing military action, going very aggressively against the Taleban, but at the same time we will be making an opportunity for those Taleban who choose to leave the fight to re-enter society. Mark Sedwill, the Nato civilian representative in Afghanistan, said that the initial focus of reintegration would be low-level Taleban. Three quarters of the Taleban are not committed core Taleban. The point at which you negotiate with core Taleban is where the three quarters who fight with them have already been engaged, he said. Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister, said that his Government would take part in Afghan peace negotiations only if the Taliban agreed to cut ties with al-Qaeda and denied sanctuary to Osama bin Laden. The Taliban denounced on their website the offer of financial inducements. This is baseless and futile. Had the aim of the Mujahidin of the Islamic Emirate been obtainment of material goals, they would accept dominance of the invaders in the first place. However, UN sources told The Times that representatives of the Talibans Quetta Shura leadership council met Kai Eide, the UN Special Representative, in Dubai this month to discuss the possibility of negotiations. An official spokesman for the UN refused to confirm the claims. (The Times)