Nations vow continued support for Afghanistan after troops leave
UPDATED DEC. 5, 1:39 P.M. EST
BONN, Germany — The United States and Western allies gave assurances Monday at an international conference on the future of Afghanistan that they would continue to support the Afghan government deep into the next decade, while calling on President Hamid Karzai to curb corruption and improve governance and rule of law.
Held in the same city where Afghan leaders met 10 years ago to draw a road map for their future at the start of a protracted war, this time around, Afghans came looking for a long-term commitment beyond the planned 2014 withdrawal of combat forces.
At a news conference at the end of the one-day meeting, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul said his government “is very satisfied with the outcome” and the affirmations of support, but emphasized continued support was needed “to preserve our historic gains” of the last 10 years.
In remarks throughout the day, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Germany’s chancellor and foreign minister as well as delegations from a raft of other nations assured that support would be forthcoming.
“The United States intends to stay the course with our friends in Afghanistan,” Clinton said, echoing earlier remarks by Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s foreign minister, who said his country was sending a “clear message to the people of Afghanistan: We will not leave you alone; you will not be abandoned.”
“Afghanistan and its people need a clear and reliable commitment to a long-term engagement for the next decade beyond 2014,” Westerwelle said.
But many participants, while pledging support, indicated that continued financing for Afghanistan’s government would hinge on government reforms, extension of human rights, especially to women, and on renewed efforts to root out corruption.
In the end, said Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal, it’s not just about security, “but it is good governance, actually, that keeps extremism, violence and terrorism away.” Like many participants in Monday’s conference Rosenthal outlined a list of improvements the Afghan government needs to carry out to ensure its success and that international aid is not squandered. If advances in the areas of governance, human rights, justice and basic services are carried out, he suggested, Afghans would have reason to choose their government over the Taliban.“It’s also about combating widespread corruption, and when this is taken together, results in these domains will actually decide whether the people will opt for democracy and reconciliation, or for extremism and violence,” he said.
Clinton called for reforms as well while making the first concrete financial commitment to Afghanistan at the conference, announcing a resumption of annual disbursements of up to $700 million to the Afghan reconstruction trust fund. The U.S. halted payments to the fund in June after the Afghan government refused banking reforms in the wake of a scandal that involved massive fraud at the country’s biggest bank.
Clinton and other foreign ministers noted that many countries on which Afghanistan has relied for cash are facing economic struggles of their own.
The cost of long-term support to Afghanistan will be “very high,” said Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, adding that leaders of the international community would be accountable to their citizens to ensure the investments in Afghanistan “actually achieve goals and are in an environment free of corruption and waste.”
Karzai, in his opening remarks at the conference, pledged to attack corruption, enforce the rule of law and pursue judicial reforms, without providing any specific plan on how those goals would be accomplished.
Significant challenges lay ahead, Karzai acknowledged, “and have the potential to derail our progress and reverse our achievements.”
Many of the gathered leaders described the long-term stability and success of Afghanistan as a regional problem, and noted Pakistan’s absence from the talks. Pakistan boycotted the conference after 24 of its troops were killed in a NATO attack on a Pakistani border post late last month.
“The entire region has a stake in Afghanistan’s future, and much to lose if the country again becomes a source of terrorism and instability,” Clinton said. “And that is why we would of course have benefited from Pakistan’s contribution to this conference.”
At the closing news conference, Rassoul also acknowledged that peace in Afghanistan hinges on the involvement of the entire region. “In Afghanistan, when we’re talking about the region, the most important element is Pakistan,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Clinton, like other leaders, voiced support for an Afghan-led reconciliation process that would create the possibility for peace by allowing Taliban back into society in return for renouncing violence and terrorism.
Westerwelle said military action will not bring peace in Afghanistan.
“We have learned that there is no military solution, there can be only a political solution,” Westerwelle said. “Despite severe setbacks, reconciliation is the path to durable and inclusive peace.”
Karzai indicated such talks should be Afghan-led, without directly criticizing parallel efforts to engage the Taliban by some Western countries, including the U.S.
The Afghan president did criticize the international community, as he has done in the past, for undermining his government’s credibility and called for the removal of “parallel structures,” a term he uses to refer to provincial reconstruction teams that have, over the last 10 years, upgraded Afghanistan’s decrepit infrastructure and coached Afghan government officials on good governance.
Karzai acknowledged progress made under the international community’s tenure in Afghanistan — revived governance, improved basic rights, rebuilt security forces, expanded delivery of public services such as health care, an eightfold increase in school enrollment, construction of more roads in the last 10 years than in all of the country’s history — but Afghanistan still needs more, he indicated.
“I hasten to say, however, that our shared goal of a stable, self-reliant and democratic Afghanistan is still far from being achieved.”
In summation, Rassoul said the stakes are high.
“No one in the international community wants Afghanistan to revert back to its recent dark days when international terrorists held the Afghan people hostage and abused our country to launch terrorist attacks against citizens in other countries, such as 9/11 tragedy.” firstname.lastname@example.org