A new contract with Afghanistan

President Karzai faced criticism over the rampant corruption in Afghanistan.
By Juurd Eijsvoogel en Mark Kranenburg

A new phase in the Afghanistan war has officially started. In The Hague today, some ninety countries and organisations solemnly promised to do their best to make Afghanistan a stable country. Only reality will tell what these good intentions are worth.

The world has not forgotten Afghanistan - or words to that effect - was what the participants of the Afghanistan conference in The Hague repeated all day Tuesday. Above all, the conference was meant to demonstrate that America hadn't forgotten Afghanistan, and that the Obama administration still intends to bring the 'forgotten war' to a good end - with renewed effort and with the support of as many partners as possible.

'A crucial year'

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, in a speech to the participants, called the conference "a universal recognition of the fact that we are all concerned by what happens in Afghanistan". According to Clinton, "we all face a common threat, a common enemy and a common task".

Clinton admitted that the efforts of the past few years have fallen short of expectations. She invited the participants to heed the Afghan saying: patience is bitter but its rewards are sweet. She stressed that stabilising Afghanistan is impossible without quelling the violence in Pakistan. And she promised that the military approach will go hand in hand with intensive civil and diplomatic efforts.

With a joint declaration at the end of the conference, the international community commits to a new contract with Afghanistan - one in which the United Nations will be given a prominent role in the reconstruction process, and the neighbouring countries will be engaged more than ever before.

In his speech the Afghan president Hamid Karzai called 2009 "a crucial year". He pointed to the elections in August but also to the new American strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which president Obama unveiled last Friday. Karzai promised to give his full support to make the new strategy a success, including to the fight against corruption - a demand made in the joint declaration.

The secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, warned that to fail in Afghanistan would mean "a betrayal to the progress that has been made in the past few years, a betrayal to our commitment to peace, human rights and development for all". The Dutch foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, called on his guests to "commit to Afghanistan for the long term".

The Hague conference had been dubbed a "big tent meeting" by Clinton because the participants included not just America's allies but all concerned organisations and countries, including Russia, China and Afghanistan's neighbour Iran. "This conference is crucial if we want to make progress," Clinton said.

Afghanisation

America's new approach is one of multilateralism. "If we are successful it won't be just Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region that stand to profit," Clinton said, "we will also have a blueprint for a new kind of diplomacy based on common interests."

Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the long list of attendees meant the conference was a success before it even started. "It is a signal that the world hasn't forgotten Afghanistan and now acknowledges that Pakistan is part of the issue."

But it is not because various parties were able to express their differences of opinion in The Hague that they have been resolved.

While the Americans talked about the need to 'Afghanise' the conflict by speeding up the training of Afghan soldiers and police - for which 4,000 extra US troops will be deployed - Iran's deputy foreign minister gave his own 'Afghanisation' speech. "The presence of foreign troops has not improved the situation," said Mehdi Akhoondzadeh, "and it doesn't look like the increase in foreign troops will be any more efficient."


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