A gathering of 85 countries extracted promises from Afghanistan’s leadership on electoral and anti-corruption reform in exchange for continued support in the coming years.
The conference in Bonn, Germany, had been billed as a step toward ending the conflict in Afghanistan. Hobbled by the absence of Pakistan and any Taliban representatives, however, focus shifted toward the often tense relationship between Kabul and its international partners.
Afghanistan was looking for long-term pledges of assistance in the decade that will follow a planned transition to local control of security in 2014. The Afghan delegation also wanted to make sure that nobody envisions rewriting the constitution or breaking up the country as part of a peace deal with insurgents. The final statement from participants included promises on those fronts, pledging to remain “strongly engaged” and support a “united Afghanistan.”
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was among dozens of his counterparts who pledged their long-term assistance; none offered specific dollar figures, expected to be a matter of debate in other meetings next year.
The final statement also recognized Kabul’s desire to review the role of the United Nations and abolish the military Provincial Reconstruction Teams as part of the Afghan government’s efforts to take control of its own affairs.
“This will be registered in the history of our nation as a golden day of support and commitment,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the conference.
For the President himself, however, Monday’s meetings may have limited his career path. Mr. Karzai has publicly said he does not want a third term in office, but some of his political opponents feared that he was using the conference to float the idea of amending the constitution to allow another run for the presidency in 2014.
That idea was firmly dismissed at the conference, and the final statement included language about strengthening oversight of Afghan elections. International watchdogs had a diminished role in the previous round of elections, marred by allegations of massive vote-rigging.
“Strengthening and improving Afghanistan’s electoral process will be a key step forward,” the statement said. Similarly, the agreed text described the “fight against corruption” as a “key priority.”
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle claimed that his conference would keep Afghanistan safe for the next generation.
“We can never allow Kabul to again become a capital for terrorists,” Mr. Westerwelle said. “We would be betraying our children and those of Afghanistan.”
Some of the Afghans in attendance seemed unimpressed. A journalist from Hewad TV, a private station based in Kandahar, summarized the mood when he pleaded with the ministers to safeguard his country from Pakistani-backed insurgents. “Save us from those nightmares,” he said.
Similar anxiety was reflected in an internal assessment mistakenly released by the U.S. embassy in Kabul on Monday.
“There has been a growing fear among the Afghan public that some coalition countries are working on a premature withdrawal plan that would leave Afghanistan at risk for going back to an uncertain era,” the assessment said.