By RFE RL
By Charles Recknagel for RFE/RL
Leaders of the international community meeting in Bonn, Germany, have vowed to support Afghanistan after foreign troops withdraw by the end of 2014.
“Today, the international community sends a clear message to the people of Afghanistan: We will not abandon you. We stay at your side,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said at the end of a one-day conference on Afghanistan’s future. The conference brought together representatives of 85 countries and 15 international organizations.
Westerwelle said that after foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the international community’s role in the country will change.
Afghanistan will be responsible for its own security, he said, while its international backers continue to help train its police and military and continue supporting its economic development.
Kabul also recommitted itself to do its share.
“Today, Afghanistan also reaffirmed in the strongest possible terms our determination to fight corruption and the culture of impunity that have undermined the development of our national institutions and internal strength and credibility,” said Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul.
But while the conference concluded with agreement on how the international community should proceed on Afghanistan, the absence of two key players underscored the challenges ahead.
Those absent players were the Taliban and Pakistan.
Afghan officials confirmed to RFE/RL that no active members of the Taliban, or prominent former members, were present at the conference. The insurgents last month branded the Bonn conference a sham and vowed not to take part.
Pakistan announced that it would boycott the event after NATO air strikes on two frontier posts near Afghanistan 10 days ago killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
In Bonn, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged Pakistan’s importance to the Afghan peace process and expressed regret about Islamabad’s boycott.
“We would, of course, have benefited from Pakistan’s contribution to this conference,” she said. “And to that end, nobody in this hall is more concerned than the United States is about getting an accurate picture of what occurred in the recent border incident.”
Pakistan is a key player in the Afghan crisis because many Afghan insurgent groups enjoy safe haven on Pakistani soil.
Islamabad also is widely believed to wield such influence with some Taliban groups — particularly the Haqqani faction — that Pakistan’s cooperation is needed to bring them into the Afghan peace process.
Islamabad’s boycott left Kabul, which has difficult relations with its neighbor, in the awkward position of trying to do damage control.
Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin told RFE/RL that Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue to talk bilaterally about security matters, no matter what happens on the larger world stage.
“Well, Pakistan’s support is absolutely crucial, but we are working with them on that on a bilateral basis. That is a process that is ongoing, as I said,” Ludin said. “But their absence from this conference is not going to affect our bilateral relationship.”
Beyond security concerns, much of the attention in Bonn was on Afghanistan’s economic needs.
Karzai expressed concern about Kabul’s difficulty in securing the sums it needs from international donors in the midst of a global economic crisis.
“The Afghan people do not wish to remain a burden on the generosity of the international community for a single day longer than absolutely necessary,” Karzai said. “But to make our success certain and our progress irreversible, we would need your steadfast support for at least another decade.”
It is estimated Afghanistan will need $7 billion per year in foreign aid to fund its own security forces after foreign troops leave in 2014.
The Bonn conference did not focus on pledges of new dollar amounts for Afghanistan but on showing that the world’s willingness to help the strife-torn country remains undiminished.
As Westerwelle told reporters, “This conference was not about capacity building or troops, nor was it a donors’ conference. It was a political conference.”
The meeting took place in the former German capital 10 years after the first Bonn Conference sought to set out the foundations of a new Afghanistan following the toppling of the Taliban in 2001.