BONN: The NATO sponsored Bonn Conference on Monday pledged to sustain support to Afghanistan for another decade, in exchange for clear progress on good governance.
Participants including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon vowed to stand by Afghanistan as it struggles to establish security and stability.
“This renewed partnership between Afghanistan and the international community entails firm mutual commitments in the areas of governance, security, the peace process, economic and social development, and regional cooperation,” the conference’s final conclusions said.
“The protection of civilians, strengthening the rule of law and the fight against corruption in all its forms remain key priorities.”
Afghanistan needs help for at least another decade: Karzai
Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the conference that his country would need international help for at least another decade.
Karzai told around 1,000 delegates gathered in the western German city of Bonn for the one-day meeting that his government would battle corruption and work toward national reconciliation but it needed firm international backing.
“We will need your steadfast support for at least another decade” after the troops pull out, he said
The meeting came 10 years after another conference here put an interim Afghan government under Karzai in place after US-led troops ousted the Taliban in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
However, Pakistan and the Taliban – both seen as pivotal to any end to the bloody strife in Afghanistan a decade on — decided to stay away from Bonn, dampening already modest hopes for real progress.
Some 140,000 international troops are in Afghanistan, and all NATO-led combat forces are due to leave by the end of 2014, when Kabul will assume responsibility for the country’s security.
Bonn assures support beyond NATO pull out
The event’s host, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, insisted there would be no rush to the exit, even as a looming global recession threatens to distract the West from the enormous challenges facing the strife-wracked nation.
“We send a clear message to the people of Afghanistan: we will not leave you alone, you will not be abandoned,” he said, pledging help in comments echoed by Merkel in a brief address.
US ends Afghanistan funds freeze
Clinton announced the United States was ending a freeze on hundreds of millions of dollars in development funds due to financial reforms by Kabul.
“The United States is pleased to announce we will be joining other partners in resuming financial disbursements to the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund,” Clinton told a conference on Afghanistan in Bonn.
US officials said that the decision would allow for the disbursement of roughly $650 million to $700 million in suspended US aid.
Officials said Washington took its cue from the International Monetary Fund’s decision last month to approve a new loan for Afghanistan after a year of difficult talks stalled by the massive Kabul Bank scandal.
Clinton laments Pakistan’s absence at conference
Rage over an air strike late last month by NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers led Islamabad to snub the gathering.
Clinton lamented the boycott in her speech to the conference.
“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 – and that is why we would of course have benefited from Pakistan’s contribution to this conference,” she said.
“We continue to believe that Pakistan has a crucial role to play,” she told reporters later, adding that she was encouraged by remarks by a Pakistani government official that it will continue cooperation, including in the fight against terrorism.
In a conciliatory gesture, the conference made special note of the strain on Pakistan and Iran in dealing with refugees from the war-ravaged country.
“We acknowledge the burden of Afghanistan’s neighbours, in particular Pakistan and Iran, in providing temporary refuge to millions of Afghans in difficult times and are committed to further work towards their voluntary, safe and orderly return,” the conclusions said.
Peace process with Taliban to continue despite Bonn absence
The Taliban, leaders of the country’s brutal, decade-long insurgency, also stayed away from Bonn, saying the meeting would “further ensnare Afghanistan into the flames of occupation”.
National reconciliation, along with the transition to Afghan sovereignty and international engagement after 2014, had originally topped the conference’s agenda.
But such hopes soured after tentative contacts collapsed and the September assassination of Karzai’s peace envoy, former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, which was blamed on the Taliban, derailed any prospects of progress.
Karzai insisted he remained open to talks.
“The political process will continue to be inclusive, open to Taliban and other militants who denounce violence, break ties with international terrorism, accept the Afghan constitution and defend peaceful life,” he said.
IMF tells Afghanistan to do more against corruption
Afghanistan will need to prove to donor nations that it can effectively manage the vast sums of assistance it says it requires years into the future, even as foreign troops go home, a top IMF official said on Monday.
“Even under optimistic scenarios, for the next decade Afghanistan will need an extraordinary degree of donor support to meet its financing needs for both security and development,” Masood Ahmed, the International Monetary Fund’s director for the Middle East and Central Asia, said in an interview.
“As the fiscal situation in many of the partner countries of Afghanistan becomes more difficult, it will become all the more important to be able to demonstrate that the money is being allocated in a way that achieves its intended objectives.”
Ahmed spoke on the sidelines of a major international conference in Bonn, Germany, on the future of Afghanistan, which is struggling with a bloody insurgency even as foreign troops gradually withdraw. One of the world’s poorest countries, Afghanistan remains heavily reliant on outside aid.
Karzai still ready to work with Pakistan despite boycott
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Monday he was still prepared to work with Pakistan despite its boycott of an international conference on Afghanistan and urged Islamabad to stop giving sanctuary to Taliban insurgents.
Karzai told reporters Pakistan had missed a good opportunity to discuss its own issues and the future of Afghanistan by not attending the Bonn conference. “But it will not stop us from cooperating together,” he said.
Asked what he wanted Pakistan to do to help bring peace in Afghanistan, he said: “Close the sanctuaries [for terrorists], arrange a purposeful dialogue with those Taliban who are in Pakistan.”