Kabul plays host to international conference on Afghanistan

On July 20, as upwards of 70 international delegations descended upon Kabul, the Afghan capital was transformed from a bustling market place to a deserted fortress. The occasion was the International Conference on Afghanistan, a collaborative effort by the Afghan government and the United Nations (UN).

Serving as a forum for “Kabul Process”, the one-day convention sought to highlight progress made towards realizing the priorities outlined by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in his 2009 inaugural address. The talks, however, also afforded stakeholders – the many partner countries, organizations and financial institutions present in the country, an opportunity to direct attention to issues of their interest.

Topics up for deliberation ranged from basic security and governance to the implementation of corruption controls and electoral reform, as well as questions of how to ensure human rights and essential services for the people of Afghanistan.

Interestingly, as representatives gathered to discuss the state and future of Afghani affairs, on the streets of the Afghan capital, strict security ensured that only police, military personnel and those civilians with special permission were allowed out.

The Afghan government also moved to close Kabul’s markets and stores as a means to ensure safety for the worldly visitors. The New York Times reported that it was a case of unfortunate irony – the very convention meant to put an Afghani face on the transition to Afghan government-led rule actually meant lost revenue for thousands of local business owners.

To date, NATO forces have been on the ground in Afghanistan for nearly a decade. Canadian troops have also been significant contributors to the NATO-led mission, underway since American forces invaded the desolate nation shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. Since that time, the Taliban have been ousted, Hamid Karzai was first instated and then subsequently elected as leader, and 151 Canadian troops have lost their lives.

In a teleconference from Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Canadian foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon, Canada’s representative at the table, was optimistic about the conference overall. On the impressive international turnout at the event, a first for this Afghan government, Cannon cited this as clear evidence of the international community’s commitment to Afghanistan.

Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, Cannon furthered that stakeholders “remain determined to help the government of Afghanistan improve its capacity to deliver services and provide a secure environment in which all Afghans, in particular women and girls, are able to realize their full potential.” Cannon concluded that he looks forward to further implementation of next steps in the “Kabul Process” outlined at the day’s conference.

Of the conference’s more noteworthy moments, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that Afghan security forces will front and carry out all of the country’s military operations against the Taliban by 2014. Aside from military responsibilities, Afghanistan will also be heading up all local law enforcement throughout the region.

Further, Karzai expressed his desire for the Afghan government to have greater control over the mass amounts of foreign aid entering the country. While only about 20 per cent of all international aid flows directly to the Afghan government today, Karzai outlined plans that will ensure that amount reaches at least 50 percent within two years time.

Undeniably, both the transition to Afghan-led rule and the country’s newfound control over aid money are controversial subjects. This is due to the fact that many doubt that the war-torn nation, unable to sustain itself for decades, will be able to handle its own security by 2014. Moreover, many fear that the nation notorious for corruption and fraud will be unable to manage such large sums of relief money.

Despite a scathing media inquiry into Karzai’s credibility, Cannon was quick to defend the Afghan president. Cannon went so far to say that he is confident that Karzai has a solid action plan in front of him. “We all left there with the firm conviction that this government is on the road to a better tomorrow for the Afghan people,” he concluded.

Nonetheless, as a war that has grown increasingly unpopular at home drags on, the international community appears eager to leave Afghanistan to sort itself out.