Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday told a major conference on the future of his country that after NATO combat troops withdraw in 2014 it would need international help for at least another decade.
Karzai told about 1,000 delegates gathered in the western German city of Bonn for the one-day meeting that his government would battle corruption and work toward national reconciliation, but it needed firm international backing.
“We will need your steadfast support for at least another decade” after the troops pull out, he said.
The meeting comes 10 years after another conference here put an interim Afghan government under Karzai in place after US-led troops ousted the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US.
However, Pakistan and the Taliban — both seen as pivotal to any end to the bloody strife in Afghanistan a decade on — have decided to stay away from Bonn, dampening already modest hopes for real progress.
About 140,000 international troops are in Afghanistan and all NATO-led combat forces are due to leave by the end of 2014, when Kabul will assume responsibility for the country’s security.
The event’s host, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, said there would be no rush to the exit.
“We send a clear message to the people of Afghanistan: We will not leave you alone, you will not be abandoned,” he said, in comments echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a brief address.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the US was ending a freeze on hundreds of millions of US dollars in development funds because of financial reforms by Kabul.
Officials said Washington took its cue from the IMF’s decision last month to approve a new loan for Afghanistan after a year of difficult talks stalled by the massive Kabul Bank scandal.
Rage over an air strike late last month by NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers led Islamabad to snub the gathering.
US President Barack Obama called Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday to express his regrets over the “tragic loss,” saying the casualties were not intentional, but Islamabad remained unmoved.
Clinton lamented the boycott in her speech to the conference.
“The entire region has a stake in Afghanistan’s future and much to lose if the country again becomes a source of terrorism and instability — and that is why we would of course have benefited from Pakistan’s contribution to this conference,” she said. “And to that end, nobody in this hall is more concerned than the United States is about getting an accurate picture of what occurred in the recent border incident.”