Analysis: The London Conference on Afghanistan

Anna Carden - TCS Reporter 8 February 2010

The recent London Conference on Afghanistan saw the international community take steps towards achieving a more stable and secure Afghanistan. The one-day talks were attended by delegates from 70 countries as well as representatives from NATO, the UN and the EU, amongst others.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s opening speech asserted that coalition powers are “turning the tide” and that a strategy of “Afghanisation” is required to strengthen Afghan institutions against Taliban insurgency.

A principal target raised was the transition of military and civilian control from coalition powers to Afghan authorities. A ‘province-by-province’ hand-over approach aims to place all areas under Afghan leadership within five years, tackling the most volatile regions first.

By late 2011, a proposed 171,600 Afghan soldiers and 134,000 Afghan policemen will bring total security force numbers to over 300,000. Mr Karzai believes it will ultimately take 15 years for Afghan security institutions to fully achieve independent rule of the country.

Increased international military support will be integral to the plan’s success. Along with 9,000 soldiers from other nations, the United States’ deployment of an additional 30,000 troops brings the total foreign force level to around 135, 000.

US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, assured the conference that “this is not an exit strategy” although Washington has declared its intention to begin withdrawing troops in mid-2011.

At the conference, Prime Minister of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai said that it is necessary to reach out to his country’s “disenchanted brothers”, the Taliban. He proposed a ‘Peace Jirga’ to be held this spring; a traditional meeting of senior tribal members to which selected Taliban fighters will be invited.

$500m (£309m) will be invested by the international community in the ‘Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund’ which provides “economic alternatives to those who renounce violence, cut links to terrorism and agree to work within the democratic process”, according to the UK Government’s website. Critics have already dubbed it the ‘Taliban Trust Fund’.

Mr Karzai requested the help of Saudi Arabia in negotiating a potential peace agreement with the Afghan Taliban. Saudi Arabia’s importance in the Muslim world and its past relationship with the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, could persuade the Afghan militants to cooperate. However, Saudi Arabia would only agree to mediate talks if the Taliban sever all ties with al-Qaida.

Certain promising outcomes emerged from the conference. The IMF and World Bank announced $1.6 billion debt relief for Afghanistan through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and Mr Karzai’s government will receive development assistance. An independent group of experts will monitor Mr Karzai’s government in an attempt to tackle corruption and improve accountability, issues which have consistently plagued Mr Karzai’s political repute.

Despite Gordon Brown’s confidence that “the people of the world speak as one”, last year was the deadliest year in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001, with 2,412 civilian and 520 military deaths. Next year, the Afghan people will have witnessed a decade of warfare. Whether this week’s London Conference will have resulted in anything significant by then remains uncertain.

Anna Carden – TCS Reporter