Karzai pledge gets international endorsement
Conferees set timelines for many reforms
KABUL, Afghanistan — The international community renewed its commitment to Afghanistan here yesterday, in exchange for a pledge by President Hamid Karzai to implement promised legal, electoral, and economic reforms within specific timelines.
Few new initiatives were presented during the daylong gathering in the Afghan capital, held under tight security amid threats of Taliban attack. Instead, a communiqué agreed to by the Afghan government and representatives of about 70 other nations reiterated a long list of anticorruption measures and governance improvements to be implemented within three months to two years. Karzai gained international endorsement for his pledge to have Afghan forces take security responsibility throughout the country by 2014, a promise he first made in his inauguration speech last year.
“This is a national objective we have to fulfill and we must,’’ Karzai told reporters after the conference.
With violence and coalition casualties surging to record heights this year, and public sentiment flagging among many of the countries with troops in Afghanistan, NATO officials have been debating the pace and scope of the hoped-for transition. But they had little concrete to offer in Kabul yesterday. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the transition would be determined by “conditions, not calendars. . . . Our mission will end when — but only when — the Afghans are able to maintain security on their own.’’
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who called the conference “a real turning point,’’ made the only public mention of President Obama’s stated intention to begin a drawdown of troops from Afghanistan in July 2011, saying that the date “captures both our sense of urgency and the strength of our resolve.’’
“The transition process’’ to Afghan security control “is too important to push off indefinitely,’’ Clinton said. But she said it would be the “start of a new phase, not the end of our involvement.’’ The United States, Clinton added, has “no intention of abandoning our long-term mission of achieving a stable, secure, peaceful Afghanistan. Too many nations — especially Afghanistan — have suffered too many losses to see this country slide backward.’’
In his opening speech to the conference, Karzai spoke briefly about reconciliation with insurgent groups, noting that his government has “framed the terms on which we must reach out to those of our armed opponents who will be willing to accept our constitution and renounce ties to Al Qaeda’s network of terror.’’
The communiqué emphasized that peace, under those conditions, was open to “all Afghan members of the armed opposition and their communities.’’
Karzai said he recognized that Afghanistan’s army and police must also improve their performance in the eyes of their own people.
“The legitimacy of the state requires that the use of force be framed within the rule of law,’’ Karzai said. “Historically, abuse of force . . . has alienated people from the government.’’
Karzai has won international agreement to funnel at least 50 percent of all economic assistance through his government within two years, a pledge that will require significantly more confidence in the government’s honesty and competence. The United States has put in place a “certification’’ process through which Afghan ministries can be deemed qualified to directly receive American aid.
Virtually all countries contributing troops, treasure, or both to Afghanistan are under increasing domestic pressure to show results, and the supportive statements by many delegations at the conference included subtle warnings to Karzai and themselves that — after nine years of war — time is growing short.
“Citizens of many nations represented here, including my own, wonder whether success is even possible,’’ Clinton said.
One delegate, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, World Bank managing director, voiced frustration: “I think we should not have any more conferences until we’ve given time to see results.’’
The Afghan government’s response was a combination of assertive confidence in the future and acknowledgement of the concerns.
“We believe [the government’s plan] will deliver peace, stability, and economic opportunity,’’ Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal told the conference. Although his government was “expecting your full support and alignment,’’ he told the conference, “we realize that foreign assistance cannot be provided indefinitely.’’