Without help from the international community, hard-won gains in Afghanistan will almost certainly be reversed once NATO forces withdraw in 2014, putting the country at risk of even more violence and chaos.
That's why a conference in Tokyo on Sunday is so important. Donor countries are expected to pledge a commitment to future aid, in exchange for the Afghan government's undertaking to address long-standing concerns about corruption and waste.
Security is the most immediate challenge in the war-torn country, with at least $4-billion a year needed to build up the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to 380,000 members, and Canada has pledged $110-million over three years for that purpose. But development, infrastructure, social and human rights projects are as important to Afghanistan's long-term transition as police and military training. Without democratic institutions, including a functioning judiciary, a country cannot advance. Donors, including Canada, should continue to ask the Afghan government to implement reforms, including better safeguards against fraud.
Of particular concern are the rights and freedoms of women. During the 1996-2001 Taliban government, their rights were severely curtailed; they were banned from going to school and working, and required to wear a burka, a head-to-toe outer garment. There has been much progress since the Taliban was ousted 11 years ago, including better access to education and health care for women and girls. And yet they remain targets of violence and still face enormous challenges. Schools are routinely attacked, students are poisoned, and women are imprisoned for "moral crimes," defined as attempting to escape domestic abuse and forced marriages.
"Donors should make it clear that continued progress on women's rights is linked to continued international support," notes Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The decisions that donors make today will have huge implications for the lives of ordinary Afghans in the years ahead."
The international community should not forget that effective security also requires good governance. The road ahead for Afghanistan will be even more precarious if development challenges aren't addressed, and women's newly won rights and freedoms aren't protected.