Thursday 28 January 2010

London conference goes according to plan

The press tent at the London conference

The London conference on Afghanistan finished today with the expected communique, which you can read here. All the main points had been well leaked in advance - the reintegration plan aimed at the Taliban and supported with a $140 million Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund provided by Britain and Japan; the decision to expand the Afghan National Army and police to reach reach 171,600 and 134,000 personnel respectively by October 2011; the plan to hand over power to the Afghans on a district-by-district basis; the decision to call a loya jirga before the next conference, which will be held in Kabul later this year.
The Afghan government also agreed to train 12,000 civil servants by the end of next year, to show greater respect for human rights and make Afghanistan "a place where men and women enjoy security, equal rights, and equal opportunities in all spheres of life".
On the question of corruption, which is rampant in Afghanistan, the Karzai government agreed within the next month to empower an independent High Office of Oversight to investigate and sanction corrupt officials, and during 2010 to establish a statutory basis for related anti-corruption bodies, including the Major Crimes Task Force and the Anti-Corruption Tribunal.
There were no complaints about the decision to postpone elections in Afghanistan, which must have received US backing before it was announced.
On women's rights, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been insistent upon, the conference welcomed the Afghan government's "commitment to strengthen the participation of women in all Afghan governance institutions, including elected and appointed bodies and the civil service". It is a pity then that there were no women amongst the official Afghan delegation to the conference.
Afghan women who travelled to the conference under their own steam issued a statement saying they were concerned about the absence of women's perspectives on proposals being discussed in London and produced a series of recommendations that were handed out to journalists attending the event.
So what was it all about in the end? It's not that the conference itself was unique in any way - there have been several such conferences in the past. Nor was there any major statement from the Americans, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to cheer up the 1100 journalists (including yours truly) who attended and who had very little to excite them.
Probably the best way to understand the event is as a public statement of support for the Karzai government, but also a warning that it had better clean up its act and begin to create a government that can work.
A lot of politics in the West is riding on success in Afghanistan, not just in Britain, but also in America and Germany, where Mrs Merkel has announced an extra 500 troops in a move that will not be popular with German voters.
Over the last few days President Karzai has been paraded through London's newsrooms alongside the prime minister, as if to emphasise the importance of success in Afghanistan and to make it clear, in public, that Mr Brown expects him to keep his end of the bargain.
And with an election in the offing in the UK, there was no harm at all in Mr Brown appearing statesman-like on the world stage.
You can find the Afghan Taliban response to the conference here.

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