BONN, Germany — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged Monday that “the United States intends to stay the course” in Afghanistan after U.S. and coalition troops depart in three years. But, she said, “Afghans have more work to do” to ensure that the billions of dollars they seek are not wasted.
Donor nations face “serious fiscal challenges” of their own, Clinton said in remarks at a global conference on Afghanistan here. “These constraints are real.”
In an illustration of the difficulties ahead, she announced that the United States would resume disbursement of about $700 million in fiscal 2011 reconstruction funds that were suspended in the summer, indirectly revealing for the first time that the money had been withheld over concerns about a scandal involving fraud at Kabul Bank.
Although the Afghan economy was the official theme of the conference, the underlying focus was the absence of two key players, Pakistan and the Taliban, and concern about U.S.-Afghanistan negotiations over a long-term American counterterrorism presence after the combat troops go home.
Pakistan boycotted the meeting to express anger over a cross-border U.S. airstrike that killed two dozen of its soldiers late last month.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said that his nation wants to rebuild ties with the United States and that he thinks “it won’t take long.”
At a news conference, Clinton said that she continues “to believe Pakistan has an important role to play” in the resolution of the Afghanistan conflict and that she was “encouraged” by Gilani’s comments.
At the conference, China and Iran spoke of the need for sovereignty to be respected in the region, a clear reference to the attack in Pakistan and the U.S.-Afghanistan talks.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said any continued foreign troop deployment would not help Afghan stability. “Certain Western countries seek to extend their military presence beyond 2014 by maintaining their military bases there,” Salehi said.
He also condemned what he called the ongoing violation of human rights by foreign troops, a clear reference to “night raids” by U.S. Special Forces, which have become the main sticking point in drawn-out U.S.-Afghan troop negotiations.
“The region is not going to accept the long-term presence of U.S. troops,” said a German parliamentarian at the conference, which Germany officially hosted. The parliamentarian spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue to the host nation.
Germany had hoped that Taliban delegates would appear on the margin of the meeting to continue preliminary peace negotiations, said the parliamentarian, who branded the meeting, “politically, a complete failure.”
The administration took part in secret peace talks with the main Taliban organization and the Haqqani insurgent network this year, but the negotiations appear to have stalled.
The Bonn gathering marks the 10th anniversary of the conference here that established an interim government in Afghanistan after the Taliban was ousted in 2001.
In anticipation of NATO’s 2014 withdrawal, the gathering began the process of trying to ensure future support for Afghanistan’s economy, unfinished reconstruction projects and foreign-funded security forces.
Afghanistan has estimated that it will need up to $10 billion a year in economic assistance until 2025 and support until 2030 for army and police forces expected to total 342,000 by 2015. But international officials planning for Afghanistan’s overall needs think it will not be able to sustain the anticipated size of the force.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke of significant accomplishments over the past 10 years, including road construction and improvements in education and health care. He said that Afghanistan’s gross domestic product had nearly tripled from the “dismal baseline of 10 years ago.”
“Afghan women,” he said, “have come out of total seclusion during the Taliban rule to take their rightful place in society. Rule of law has steadily grown.”
A delegation of Afghan women and civil society leaders who met with Clinton were more pessimistic.
“Billions of dollars have been spent in Afghanistan, but unfortunately, the expectations of the people have not been met,” Syed Rehim Sattar, head of the Afghan NGO Coordination Body, told Clinton.