Afghanistan eyes 2014 security handover
The international community on Tuesday endorsed sweeping Afghan government plans to take responsibility for security by 2014, forge peace to end nine years of war and take greater control of aid projects.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led about 80 organisations and countries at a key conference in Kabul aiming to put Afghanistan on the road to stability -- and allow foreign troops to draw down.
President Hamid Karzai is under intense Western pressure to crack down on corruption, make better use of billions of dollars of aid money and quell a virulent Taliban insurgency.
The Taliban, overthrown in a 2001 US-led invasion, control large swathes of the south and have put up stiff resistance to a troop surge deploying 150,000 US and NATO troops as part of a counter-insurgency strategy.
Karzai delivered a keynote address seeking to convince the international community he was capable of assuming responsibility for security and cleaning up government, but the lasting impact of the conference remains unclear.
The final communique backed Karzai's call for Afghan security forces to "lead and conduct military operations in all provinces by the end of 2014," allowing foreign troops to start pulling out.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, who chaired the conference with Karzai, said the final communique reflected the determination of the international community "to stay engaged for the long term".
"Now we must focus all our energies on making this vision a reality."
Clinton described the plan as "comprehensive" and said the conference marked a "turning point," while British Prime Minister David Cameron said plans for a transition in four years were "realistic".
The scale of the challenge was made clear by the thousands of Afghan troops, backed by NATO forces, who put Kabul under security lockdown to prevent any Taliban attack on the conference at the heavily protected foreign ministry.
Karzai said the international community had committed enough money to see Afghanistan through the next three years and called for greater control of the multi-billion-dollar aid budget for his impoverished country.
The conference urged Kabul to make reforms to strengthen public financial management and reduce corruption, saying at least 50 percent of development aid would be channelled into the government's budget within two years.
Previously, only 20 percent of 40 billion dollars of pledged international aid had been routed through the budget, leading to corruption among the rest.
"We all agree that steady transition to Afghan leadership and ownership is the key to sustainability," Karzai said.
He called on foreign allies to invest in major infrastructure projects that can transform the lives of Afghans instead of isolated projects that have minimal impact.
The International Monetary Fund Tuesday announced a 125-million-dollar loan for Afghanistan, to help the country move towards financial sustainability.
The Kabul conference also endorsed a peace and reintegration programme drawn up by the Afghan government to reach out to insurgents who renounce violence, have no links to Al-Qaeda and respect the constitution.
Karzai last month won approval from Afghan leaders to start peace talks with insurgent leaders and called on the international community to back his efforts -- despite at least initial scepticism from the United States.
The West is under increasing pressure at home to justify their commitments to Afghanistan, where the war has killed 381 foreign soldiers so far this year -- including a NATO soldier who died in a bomb attack in the south on Tuesday.
Clinton emphasised that much more work faced the Afghan government.
"The Afghan government is stepping forward to deal with a multitude of difficult challenges. We're encouraged by much of what we see, particularly their work to improve governance," she told the conference.
British foreign minister William Hague, whose country has the second largest troop deployment to Afghanistan, described the conference as "a step forward".
"It is now very important to implement these plans, that the capacity of the Afghan state (and) their economic performance is built up in the way is planned, that they use the development aid successfully, that there is an intensified effort to prevent corruption," he told reporters.
© 2010 AFP