Diplomats Meet In Germany On Afghanistan's Future

A big international conference is being held in Bonn, Germany, on Monday to help draw up a roadmap for Afghanistan after combat operations there cease at the end of 2014. But Pakistan — a critical player in the Afghanistan conundrum — has said it's boycotting the conference after NATO troops killed 24 Pakistani soldiers during an attack in late November.

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As Europeans discuss their future, diplomats from many nations are meeting to discuss the future of Afghanistan. This meeting is taking place in Bonn, Germany. That location has resonance because a previous meeting on Afghanistan took place there. Now, diplomats are considering what to do more than a decade after U.S. forces first struck the country. The U.S. and its allies want to end combat operations and hand over security to the Afghan government at the end of 2014. But there is a lot to do before then. And a crucial nation, Pakistan, says it will boycott the conference.

NPR's Jackie Northam reports from Bonn.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The last time the international community met in Bonn to discuss Afghanistan was 10 years ago. The U.S. and its allies had just driven the Taliban from power, and the conference was to determine the makeup of Afghanistan's new government. Today's conference will be to discuss the involvement and support of the international community after the bulk of Western troops have departed. Paraag Shukla, with the Institute for the Study of War, says there's never been a decision on what this transition actually means.

PARAAG SHUKLA: It's been cited in terms of security - the handover of lead security responsibility to the Afghan government and the Afghan national security forces. However, no one has really mapped out, in a definitive sense, what kind of steps are required.

NORTHAM: Shukla says the discussions will likely include funding, support and guidance for the Afghan government, and continued training for its security forces. Still, Shukla doesn't see the conference producing any real results.

SHUKLA: Even though the international commitment is going to be discussed, it's really not a meeting for pledges as such. But I think it's an opportunity for the U.S. to really present our perspective, and really take the perspective of our international partners specifically in regards to transition.

NORTHAM: The conference is an opportunity for the U.S. to clearly state its goals for Afghanistan after 2014 - something it's not been able to do so far, says Ronald Newman, who was the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007. There's increasing talk in the U.S. about an accelerated timetable for withdrawal. The killing of Osama bin Laden, and a general fatigue after being embroiled in the war for a decade, is leading to the sense that the U.S. is in a rush to get out, says Newman.

RONALD NEWMAN: The basic problem we're trying to deal with is profound doubt in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taliban, that we will actually stay the course. And everybody shapes their actions on their fears and expectations.

NORTHAM: Newman says the U.S. needs to assure the Afghan government, and the international community, that it will not abandon Afghanistan. He says the U.S. needs to ensure that the government is functioning, and the Afghan security forces are trained, before it fully withdraws. Otherwise, there could be civil war. Newman says Pakistan has the potential to be a spoiler for any Afghanistan plans. He says as 2014 looms, the U.S. needs to apply much more military pressure on insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan, whether the government there likes it or not.

NEWMAN: So the message to Pakistanis is, essentially, we'll help you. We'll maintain support economically, military equipment, supplies. We're not trying to put you out of power. We'll help you stay there. But we're going to take action against people that are hurting us. If you can't do it, we're doing it ourselves.

NORTHAM: The Pakistani government abruptly pulled out of the Bonn conference in a show of anger, after NATO airstrikes killed two dozen Pakistani troops late last month during an operation against the Taliban along the border. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Pakistan's decision is regrettable.

SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: Everyone knows Pakistan will be a major participant in what occurs in the future. So I would hope that perhaps there can be a follow-up way that we can have the benefit of Pakistani participation in this international effort.

NORTHAM: U.S. officials say Pakistan's military and intelligence service have sufficient influence to persuade the Taliban and its allies to come to the negotiating table. At one point, there was talk about inviting a representative of the Taliban to the Bonn conference, but no invitation was ever extended. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Bonn.

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