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Goal is to lay framework for security, prosperity after international troops leave
By Yasir Rehman
BONN – More than 1,000 delegates from around the world met in the former West German Parliament chamber December 5 to discuss the future of Afghanistan at the second historic Bonn Conference and to reaffirm support for the country's fledgling democracy after 2014, when most international coalition forces plan to leave the country.
The Bonn Conference is focused on the transfer of security responsibilities from international forces to Afghan forces over the next two years, long-term prospects for international aid and the search for a political settlement with the Taliban.
“The goal of this conference will be to lay the groundwork for a free, secure and prosperous Afghanistan,” conference host and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told the delegates.
About 100 countries and international organisations sent representatives to the one-day meeting, with some 60 foreign ministers in attendance.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the conference.
“We send a clear message to the people of Afghanistan: we will not leave you alone; you will not be abandoned,” Westerwelle said. “Afghanistan and its people need a clear and reliable commitment to a long-term engagement for the next decade beyond 2014.”
Ten years after the September 11 attacks, the world has a vested interest in a “stable and peaceful Afghanistan that does not pose a threat,” Westerwelle said.
“Together we have spent blood and treasure in fighting terrorism,” Karzai said, as he urged the international community to stand by his country after the planned 2014 troop withdrawal.
“Your continued solidarity, your commitment and support will be crucial so that we can consolidate our gains and continue to address the challenges that remain. We will need your steadfast support for at least another decade.”
Mutually binding commitments sought
Conference attendees hope to agree on a set of mutually binding commitments under which Afghanistan would promise reforms and work toward goals such as good governance, with donors and international organisations pledging long-term assistance in return to ensure the country’s viability beyond 2014.
Afghanistan estimates it will need outside contributions of roughly $10 billion (484 billion AFA), or slightly less than half the country’s annual GDP, in 2015. It will present plans to expand mining and agriculture and boost exports and pledges improvements in financial management and anti-corruption efforts.
“The political process will be inclusive, open to the Taliban and other militants who renounce violence,” Karzai said.
Hope despite setbacks
The reconciliation efforts suffered a major setback with the September assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was leading the Afghan government’s effort to broker peace with the insurgents.
Another setback came with Pakistan's boycott of the Bonn meeting after the accidental deaths late last month of 24 of its soldiers in a friendly-fire incident involving international coalition forces. That incident is under investigation.
Although Pakistan did not attend the meeting, senior security analyst and former secretary for defence production Lt. Gen. (ret.) Talat Masood told Central Asia Online that Pakistan remains committed to working for peace in Afghanistan and that the Bonn Conference has special significance for bringing peace to the country.
This conference will begin a new phase of co-operation, Afghan National Security Advisor and former foreign minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta told Deutsche Welle Radio.
“The foundations of this new co-operation have been laid through a transfer of responsibility for security operations and through principles of good government in Afghanistan,” he said. “In other words, Afghanistan will, in effect, win back its full sovereignty and take over full responsibility for its affairs.”
No military solution
Terrorist attacks against the West had prompted the military intervention in Afghanistan, Westerwelle acknowledged.
“In spite of this, it is now important that we recognise something,” he told Deutsche Welle ahead of the conference. “This mission has been going on for 10 years, and there is not going to be a military solution. It also needs a political solution.”
However, an acceptance of certain principles was required of those who wanted to operate within democratic institutions, he said.
“There must be principles in reconciliation that are not violated: renouncing terrorism and violence, respect for the constitution and respect for fundamental human and civil rights,” he said.