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OTTAWA, Canada (AP) -- Canadian diplomats and the military should open talks with the Taliban if they think negotiations can effectively shorten what may otherwise be a "very long" war in Afghanistan, said a Senate report released Wednesday.

The Senate's national security committee said progress has been made in the country, but the mission remains a formidable challenge and more aid and NATO troops are needed.

"Unless ordinary Afghans start seeing tangible benefits from the international aid effort on a widespread basis -- which might lead them to urge the Taliban to either negotiate or even retreat -- it will be difficult to see a positive outcome in Afghanistan," the senators said in the report.

Canadian soldiers and government officials in Kandahar should talk to the Taliban if they believe communication would encourage disarmament or improve the security of critical development projects, the six-member panel said.

"The conflict in Afghanistan could go on for a very long time if there is no attempt to resolve the issue through diplomacy," said the committee, led by Liberal Sen. Colin Kenny.

The committee, an advisory board without any power to make policy changes, noted Ottawa has been adamant that there can never be any negotiations with the Taliban until the movement "renounces violence."

"Does this ultimatum make sense?" the report asked.

Winning the hearts and minds of the populace in an intensely conservative and fundamentalist Islamic region such as southern Afghanistan is not easy, the report said.

"In a country of intense poverty, it is not difficult to buy loyalty, and the Taliban have plenty of money raised from the drug trade and outside sources. Taliban fighters are well paid in comparison to just about everyone else in Afghanistan."

And Afghans have other grievances that strengthen the appeal of the Taliban, it noted.

"Hatred of foreign troops is . . . exacerbated by the historical fact that foreign troops in Afghanistan, such as the Soviets and British, have brutalized the Afghan population," the report said.

"NATO has a tough row to hoe in stimulating support for the [President Hamid] Karzai government or any reasonable alternative."

Development is the only hope in winning over the populace, said the report. It recommends NATO allies deploy 4,000 additional troops to secure Kandahar province, where 2,500 Canadian soldiers are based. Eighty-three Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan to date.

The committee urges the government to send 200 Canadian federal, municipal and provincial police, and up to 500 recently retired police officers to Kandahar to train Afghan police.

The report also called for troop rotations of nine to 12 months instead of the current six months to give Canadian soldiers more time to understand Afghanistan and Afghans, likely increasing the success of the mission.

June 11, 2008 - CNN News||| Canadian lawmakers urge talks with Taliban
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