By Pallavi Kumar
The plane carrying UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon to the Kabul Conference last Tuesday had to be diverted to Bagram Air Base from Kabul Airport, due to rocket fire. The 70 countries, organizations, and groups attending this conference cannot possibly feel any reassurances about their discussion after this incident. Peace and success seem to still be a distant quixotic notion for the people and government of Afghanistan, and while the Kabul Conference reports boast of unrelenting support for President Hamid Karzai, there are still many elements lacking in this country before it can become a fully functioning, sovereign, governing body.
It has been almost 10 years since the invasion, and The Kabul Conference was intended to be a one-day event marking the progress of the country and a complete analysis of the remaining objectives that need to be achieved. It was held in Afghanistan’s capital city, hosted by the governing body of the country and co-chaired by the United Nations. Unlike during the Peace jirga held by the Karzai Administration a few weeks earlier, which was to bring together moderate Taliban members and the government, this time there was no violence, attacks or bombs that interrupted the actual meeting. Security was tight in the Afghan capital ahead of the conference, and if it seemed safe to everyone, it was mainly because there was absolutely no one on the streets of Kabul except security personnel. The Taliban had no one to attack, even if they wanted to.
Afghanistan and its many allies are standing at a crucial turning point, as the partnerships are starting to diminish and questions regarding the end of this war are starting to rise. While achieving lasting peace, security, and stability are of utmost importance; everyone is also evaluating their exit strategies. Many governments have already withdrawn their troops from the battlefields, The Netherlands and Canada are currently planning their withdrawal, and Germany has stated that it will start transitioning control to Afghanistan next year. Some countries are also hoping that an increase in aid will compensate for their noticeable absence from active security detail. The British are pledging an increase of 40% in aid to Afghanistan, and of course, there is the big issue of what exactly America will do next July.
The highlights from the conference include a goal for Afghan forces to lead and command all security operations by 2014, an endorsement of Mr. Karzai’s integration program for insurgents, and an increase to at least 50% of aid to be channeled through the Afghan government. The second goal at the conference includes Karzai’s plan to offer jobs and cash to Taliban members in exchange for them laying down their weapons. This last goal also commits Afghanistan to lead a transparent government that will be responsible and accountable for its resource allocation. These are ambitious goals because currently, no Afghan police unit can operate independently, the concept of rehabilitation of Taliban members seems quite grand, and due to the high level of corruption within the administration, funneling aid through the government may not be the best idea. Currently, the money is spent and allocated through NGOs and international organizations, but most people have not seen any of it. Afghanistan has received $36 billion in foreign aid – about US$1,200 per person – since 2001, and the country is worse than it ever was. If the government were to allocate the financial resources for the country, it would be a change in the current policy, but it may not necessarily be the best option.
A deep mistrust still characterizes the relationship between the Afghan government and its international donors, and while they want to end this relationship, the latter are often reluctant to entrust anything to the Afghan government fearing corruption, mismanagement, or lack of qualifications. A 2008 Brookings Institution report on the Index of State Weakness, ranked Afghanistan as the second-weakest institution in the world – behind Somalia. Donors view the Afghan government as weak, but Afghan officials complain that efforts to circumvent their ministries further weaken the state.
The civilian population within the country does not care what the outcome of the meeting is. They only want to know when the outside armies will be leaving. Their lives have not improved, and have actually only deteriorated since the Taliban ruled the country. They were not free back then, but at least they did not also have to content with a war, bombings, and deaths of family members. The population was actually more hopeful after the Peace jirga, hoping that some type of reconciliation would have come from that meeting. This is the ninth meeting in almost nine years since the war began, and many of these promises were made previously, and many of these same goals were set on earlier occasions. Nothing notable came out of the conferences held in London, Paris, or Tokyo, and if nothing comes out of this one, it will definitely make Afghans lose complete hope in the coalition forces.
Pallavi Kumar is a Research Intern at Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies and may be reached at [email protected]