Bonn conference stresses on rebuilding Afghanistan

Bonn, Dec 5 (IANS) Delegates from over 100 countries and international organisations, gathered in Germany's Bonn city Monday, were focusing their energies at an international conference on drawing up a roadmap for the war-torn Afghanistan's future.

Ten years ago, a similar major conference on Afghanistan was held in the same city, which reshaped the Afghan political framework after the western military forces toppled Taliban regime and Hamid Karzai became the transitional leader of the country and then won the election to become president.

The 2011 Bonn conference, hosted by Germany and chaired by Karzai, is aimed at mobilizing the international community in support of Afghanistan, and beyond 2014, when international combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan, Xinhua reported.

With the theme 'From Transition to Transformation', the conference hopes to make progress on two aspects -- to renew international community's commitment to maintaining long-term stability and development of Afghanistan, and to promote the political process of reconciliation between the Afghan government and the insurgents.

'The Afghan people do not wish to remain a burden on the generosity of the international community for a single day longer than absolutely necessary,' Karzai said at the gathering.

'But to make our success certain and our progress irreversible, we would need your steadfast support for at least another decade,' the Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty quoted the Afghan leader as saying.

Despite large-scale attendance, the conference was overshadowed by Pakistan deciding to stay away to protest against a cross-border NATO bombing on the country's checkposts that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead Nov 26.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle vowed to continue supporting the Afghan government after most foreign combat troops leave the country.

'The goal of this conference will be to lay the groundwork for a free, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan. We send a clear message to the people of Afghanistan: We will not leave you alone. You will not be abandoned,' the Radio Free Europe quoted Westerwelle as saying.

'Afghanistan and its people need a clear and reliable commitment to a long-term engagement for the next decade beyond 2014,' he said.

Warning against the dangers of abandoning Afghanistan, India exhorted the international community to stay engaged for the long term to eliminate 'sanctuaries of terror' and pitched for a Marshall Plan-like initiative to help rebuild the violence-torn country.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, who is representing India at the Bonn conference on the future of Afghanistan, also underlined India's enduring commitment to the rebuilding of that country for which it has already pledged $2 billion.

Krishna warned against terror emanating from across the border - an all-too obvious reference to Pakistan that is suspected of fomenting instability with a view to gaining strategic depth in that country at India's expense.

The Marshall Plan was devised by the US to provide monetary support to Europe to help rebuild its economies after the end of World War II and in order to combat the spread of Soviet communism.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed that the US was 'prepared to stand with the Afghan people for the long haul'.

She warned that the international community has 'much to lose if the country again becomes a source of terrorism and instability', CNN reported.

Clinton expressed concern that Pakistan had not sent a representative to Bonn, and said it was 'imperative' that all of Afghanistan's neighbours support the reconciliation process with the Taliban and other insurgents.

'We could, of course, have benefited from Pakistan's contribution to this conference,' she said.

Karzai has reassured delegates that his attempts to bring the Taliban into a peace process would not mean a reversal on women's rights or other reform goals that are a condition of continued international financial aid.

Earlier on Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview that the Taliban, which did not send a representative to the Bonn meeting, could make a contribution to the peace process if they cut all links to Al Qaeda and renounce violence.

As Islamabad plays a key role in mediation between the Afghan government and the Taliban, observers said the boycott has severely dampened expectations from the conference and cast doubt over how the domestic reconciliation of Afghanistan could really be achieved in such an unfavourable and unpredictable atmosphere.