Karzai's road map for reforms wins diplomats' support at Afghan conference

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed that the U.S. and its allies will stand by Afghanistan even as fears are growing about the course of the nearly 9-year-old war.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

KABUL -- Afghanistan's first major international conference in more than three decades concluded Tuesday with diplomats from around the world endorsing President Hamid Karzai's commitments to having Afghans in charge of security by 2014 and curbing government corruption well before that.

Against a backdrop of intensified violence and growing impatience in Europe and the United States with the protracted war, Karzai expressed gratitude for the world's support and optimism about his country's future.

"Today, I invite us to elevate our vision above the din of the battle with our common enemies and to focus on our noble goal: a peaceful, prosperous and stable Afghanistan," Karzai said in his address.

The road map he presented amounted to a refinement of the same goals he spelled out in his inaugural speech last year -- peace talks with the Taliban; government reform; and gradual assumption of control by Afghanistan of billions of dollars in foreign aid, as well as the military prosecution of the war. It was a measure of the difficulties ahead that just being able to host delegations from about 70 countries without disruption was seen as a victory for Karzai's beleaguered government.

"Today was a real turning point," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

Clinton, who arrived in Kabul from Pakistan on Monday, made the only public mention of President Obama's stated intention to begin a drawdown of troops from Afghanistan in July 2011.

"The transition process is too important to push off indefinitely. But this date is the start of a new phase, not the end of our involvement," she said.

Even as diplomats endorsed the Afghans' plans for a mechanism to assess which provinces would be first to come under Afghan security control, the expected date of those first steps receded.

NATO foreign ministers who met in Estonia in April expected that some provinces would be chosen for Afghan control by November, at another NATO conference in Lisbon, according to diplomats and NATO officials in Kabul.

But with the deteriorating war and the arrival of Gen. David H. Petraeus as top commander, officials now expect it will be at least the summer of 2011 before the first provinces shift to Afghan control. The delay has worried some of the Europeans who are eager to show progress to their skeptical publics. To others, it is merely a dose of reality.

"It's going to be a very lengthy process. Transition is not going to happen overnight," said Shaida Mohammad Abdali, the deputy national security adviser, who chaired the interagency committee that drafted the conference paper on transition. "When you have a province you want to be transferred, there are going to be specific criteria, specific standards required."

Karzai spoke only briefly, and clarified little, about another delicate political issue: his approach to negotiations with the Taliban. As in the past, he made any dialogue with insurgents contingent on their willingness to accept the Afghan constitution and renounce al-Qaeda.

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