Matt Dunham/Getty Images
Afghan President Hamid Karzai (right) greets Britain's Foreign Minister David Miliband (center) and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Thursday during the opening session of the Afghanistan Conference in London.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai (right) greets Britain's Foreign Minister David Miliband (center) and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Thursday during the opening session of the Afghanistan Conference in London. Matt Dunham/Getty Images
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, meeting with world leaders in London on Thursday, laid out an ambitious agenda to fight corruption in his country and try to lure Taliban fighters away from the insurgency.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and officials from dozens of countries represented at the conference said they would support Karzai, as they agreed on a timetable to transfer security duties to Afghan forces in the country's more peaceful provinces starting in late 2010 or early 2011.
Karzai hit on all the themes that donor nations wanted to hear. He said he would make a big push to fight corruption in his country by streamlining the bureaucracy and empowering an oversight body. He also outlined an effort to reintegrate Taliban forces into civil society by establishing a national council for peace and reconciliation.
"Reconciliation and reintegration is what Afghans agree on. We must reach out to all of our countrymen, especially our disenchanted brothers who are not part of al-Qaida or other terrorist networks, who accept Afghans' Constitution," Karzai said.
The international community will help pay for the effort, according to the host of the London conference, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
"We are today establishing an international trust fund to finance this Afghan-led peace and reintegration program, to provide an economic alternative to those who have none. But for those insurgents who refuse to accept the conditions of reintegration, we have no choice but to pursue them militarily," Brown said.
The London talks on Afghanistan were an effort to better coordinate international military and civilian efforts. Another key goal, Brown said, was to establish a road map for a transition — putting Afghans in charge of their security district by district.
The United States is sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan this year, raising the total U.S. force to about 100,000, in an effort to counter Taliban gains in Afghanistan. But President Obama has said he plans to start withdrawing some U.S. troops by July 2011.
Karzai said he will spare no effort to try to be in a position for Afghans to take charge of security all over the country within five years.
Civil-society activists raised doubts that Karzai will be able to deliver.
Wazhma Frogh, a leader of the Afghan Women's Network, said she is particularly worried about the reconciliation efforts. She said the international community seems to be looking for an exit strategy and forgetting how the Taliban terrorized women when it ruled the country.
"It is not that we are against peace and reconciliation," she said. "It is just that how can peace be brought without justice, without human rights and without half the population's contribution? It's just impossible," she said.
Clinton made clear that the U.S. is committed to promoting women's rights.
But she also backed plans to try to lure away Taliban foot soldiers and Karzai's plans to have a peace gathering, known as a jirga.
"The starting premise is you don't make peace with your friends. You have to be willing to engage with your enemies if you expect to create a situation that ends an insurgency or so marginalizes the remaining insurgents that it doesn't pose a threat to the security and stability of the people," Clinton said.
The London conference brought together donors and all of Afghanistan's neighbors — except one. Iran did not send its foreign minister or its ambassador in London.
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said it was a missed opportunity.
"I think it would be nice had they been there. I think people in the region were keen for them to be invited and wanted them to be here. They have an important role to play in the region," Ashton said.
While Iran was absent, the country was the topic of conversation in many of Clinton's meetings in London as she pushes for more international sanctions to pressure Iran to scale back its nuclear ambitions.