President seeks continued global solidarity

Afghanistan will need the financial support of the international community for at least another decade beyond the 2014 departure of international troops, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told an international conference on Monday.

“Together we have spent blood and treasure in fighting terrorism,” said Mr. Karzai. “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.”

But the international conference on the future of Afghanistan in Bonn was overshadowed by a public display of bad blood between the United States and Pakistan, the two nations with the greatest stake and say in making Afghanistan safe and solvent.

Pakistan boycotted the conference to protest an apparently errant U.S. air strike last month that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the rough border with Afghanistan.

“It was unfortunate that they did not participate,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a news conference. “I expect that Pakistan will be involved going forward and we expect them to play a constructive role.”

Pakistan is seen as instrumental to ending the insurgency in Afghanistan because of its links to militant groups and its unwillingness, from the U.S. and NATO perspective, to drive insurgents from safe havens on its soil where they regroup and rearm.

During the one-day conference, about 100 nations and international organisations, including the United Nations, jointly pledged political and financial long-term support for war-torn Afghanistan to hinder it from falling back into chaos or becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

“We will need your steadfast support for at least another decade,” Mr. Karzai told the delegates, echoing a recent assessment by the World Bank that predicted a sharp budget shortfall as the 130,000 international troops gradually withdraw.

Participating nations pledged their support for an inclusive Afghan-led reconciliation process on condition that any outcome must reject violence, terrorism and endorse the Afghan Constitution and its guarantee of human rights.

Mutual commitments

The Bonn conference's final declaration outlines a series of “firm mutual commitments” for the decade following the troop withdrawal. Afghanistan commits in the document to do to its homework in terms of reform, fighting corruption, promoting good governance and strengthening democracy. The international community, in return, pledged to direct “financial support toward Afghanistan's economic development and security-related costs,” conveying the message that Kabul can count on its partners beyond 2014.

Afghanistan's western neighbour, Iran, did join the conference, represented by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. That set up a rare occasion when two U.S. and Iranian representatives were in the same room. Iran stands ready to support Afghanistan and an Afghan-led reconciliation process, said Mr. Salehi, while strongly condemning the idea of any military bases remaining after 2014.

The U.S. is currently seeking an agreement with the Afghan government establishing operating rules for the small number of remaining U.S. forces and other issues after international forces withdraw.

Donor nations did not commit to specific figures at Monday's meeting. A donor conference will be held in July in Japan.

The United States announced it would free more than $650 million in support for small community-based development projects in Afghanistan, frozen because of financial irregularities in Afghanistan's key Kabul Bank.

Afghanistan estimates it will need outside contributions of roughly $10 billion in 2015 and onward, slightly less than half the country's annual gross national product.

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