Canada''s Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday he supports Afghan President Hamid Karzai''s attempts at reconciliation with the Taliban.

But he found himself in the crossfire of skeptical rivals in a televised political debate.

"The Afghan government has made local efforts and attempts from time to time in the past to reconcile with the Taliban," said Harper. "President Karzai is looking to develop political reconciliation and debate in a democratic system, rather than debating with weapons.

"And that''s an important, critical part of his programme. And I support it."

As Harper''s political rivals attacked him and exchanged barbs on the issue, Harper also reaffirmed his intentions to withdraw Canada''s troops from Afghanistan in 2011.

"We managed to build a consensus where we''ll stay there until 2011 at which time we''ll leave after having trained the Afghan forces," said Harper.

He pointed to a unanimous parliamentary vote earlier this year to withdraw Canada''s 2,500 troops from southern Afghanistan in 2011.

"It''s essential that the international community train the Afghan forces so that they can maintain the security of their own country. That''s the only way to win in the long term," he said.