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Kabul Conference Marks Transition to Leadership

KABUL, (AFP) – Afghanistan is set to host a key international conference in Kabul on Tuesday, aiming to chart a course for the war-torn country’s future and show supporters it is acting on past pledges.

Organised under blanket security, the meeting is being billed as a bid by the Afghan government to start a process of transition from dependence on Western backers to running the country alone and responsibly.

“The conference has two major goals — one is to demonstrate Afghan political will and a concrete programme of action,” Ashraf Ghani, conference organiser and a former presidential candidate, told AFP in an interview.

“The second is to ask for realignment of the assistance so generously provided by the international community, to achieve our common objectives of a stable, secure and democratic Afghanistan.”

President Hamid Karzai and UN chief Ban Ki-moon are to chair the conference, to be attended by up to 70 international representatives including about 40 foreign ministers, led by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

While officials are adamant it is not a donors’ conference, some have said the United States, Britain and Japan could add billions of dollars to their existing commitments.

Pakistan and Afghanistan on Sunday signed an agreement to open their border to more trade in a move welcomed by the United States as an “historic” sign of improving relations between the long-antagonistic neighbours.

Ministers have said the agreement could boost cross-border trade to five billion dollars a year, from the current 1.5 billion.

Afghan and NATO troops are leading a major security effort to guard against any possible Taliban attack on the Kabul conference.

The government declared Monday and Tuesday public holidays and thousands of security forces closed most major roads in Kabul.

Karzai is expected to lay out a timeframe for Afghan police and military to take responsibility for security, allowing foreign combat troops to withdraw by the end of 2014, Western diplomats said.

NATO’s civilian representative in Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, said the deadline was challenging but realistic.

“Our objective is for the Afghans to take up the burden of combat operations themselves,” he told the BBC.

“Of course this has to be a conditions-based process and we will only transition the lead and more and more of the responsibility for conducting operations as the Afghan forces build up their capability,” he said.

Afghan officials are set to present proposals covering governance, economic and social development, rule of law and justice, human rights and aid effectiveness.

The conference would mark another phase in what is now being called the “Kabul process”, a series of conferences and other milestones such as elections charting the transition to Afghan leadership, a Western diplomat said.

“This process will help articulate a vision for Afghanistan, living in peace with itself and its neighbours,” he said.

Central to this process, conference organiser Ghani said, is a commitment from the international community to grant the Afghan government control of 50 percent of all donor funds within two years.

“This of course requires significant changes in public financial management, accountability and transparency from the Afghan government’s side,” he said.

Since the Taliban regime was overthrown in 2001, only 20 percent of pledged funds — an estimated total of 40 billion dollars — had been channelled through the Afghan budget, leading to profound levels of corruption among the rest.

Western nations are under increasing public pressure to justify their aid and military commitments to one of the world’s most corrupt countries.

Ghani said Afghanistan was seen in the West through a prism of violence and corruption, while advances in areas such as health, education and infrastructure were overlooked.

“We are at a time of unique opportunity to get Afghanistan right,” he said.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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