A decade ago, shortly after the Taliban had been driven out of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, the international community gathered in Bonn, Germany, to talk about rebuilding Afghanistan.
On Monday, more than 100 countries again gathered in Bonn, this time to see how they could maintain support for Afghanistan after the U.S. and NATO wind down their combat operations in three years.
Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, said he was grateful for all the help his country has received, and he appealed to the international community to keep it up.
Many delegates at the conference, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, assured Karzai they would stay the course.
If the sheer number of delegates and the tenor of their speeches were used as the gauge, Karzai’s concerns about being abandoned would seem unwarranted.
But Karzai knows there’s a lot of time between now and 2014 and that many nations could lose interest in Afghanistan or shift priorities.
“The Afghan people do not wish to be a burden for a single day longer than is absolutely necessary,” he said. “But to make our success certain and our progress irreversible, we will need your steadfast support for at least another decade.”
Afghan Economy Still Weak
Karzai spoke of the need for ongoing help to build Afghanistan’s economy, which is expected to take a big hit once NATO troops leave. He said Afghanistan will also need foreign troops to help train and advise Afghanistan’s security forces.
Clinton said the U.S. would not abandon Afghanistan.
“The United States and our international partners must remain committed to training, advising, an assisting Afghan forces, even as we continue to go after those who are unwilling to end the conflict or who are engaging in acts of terrorism,” she said.
Clinton said in exchange, Afghans must live up to their commitments to strengthen democracy and embrace reform.
She said all of Afghanistan’s neighbors have a role in ensuring the country’s stability. She made a pointed reference to Pakistan, which boycotted the conference in a show of anger, after NATO airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani troops last month along the border with Afghanistan. The US and NATO are investigating the episode.
“The entire region has a stake in Afghanistan’s future and much to lose if the country again becomes a source of terrorism and instability – and that is why 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 about getting an accurate picture of what occurred in the recent border incident.”
While Pakistan stayed away from the conference, Afghanistan’s western neighbor, Iran, did attend.
Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said his country stands ready to support Afghanistan. But he denounced the idea that some Western troops might remain in the country after 2014.
The Bonn conference did not include financial pledges. Those will likely come at a donor’s conference expected in Tokyo next summer.