x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

US calls for support of 'all nations here'

The United States and Nato yesterday called on the international community to do more to help defeat the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai, centre, talks to Iran's delegation at the Afghanistan summit in The Hague yesterday.
Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai, centre, talks to Iran's delegation at the Afghanistan summit in The Hague yesterday.

THE HAGUE // The United States and Nato yesterday called on the international community to do more to help defeat the insurgency in Afghanistan and develop its civil, military and political institutions, even while saying the war-torn country must assume more responsibility for its own future. At a major summit here on Afghanistan, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, asked that the 700 delegates gathered "recommit ourselves" with "a new strategy, new energy and new resources" after years of an effort that has been "undermanned, under-resourced and underfunded".

"The range of countries and institutions represented here is a universal recognition that what happens in Afghanistan matters to us all," Mrs Clinton said, adding that success will be achieved only with "the help of all nations here." Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the secretary general of Nato, likewise called for increased contributions from members of the military alliance and others, particularly in the form of financial aid to a Nato trust fund to support the Afghan national army over the next five years.

As the conference went on, some new commitments were announced and promises for co-operation made - including, significantly, by Iran, whose mere presence at the summit was hailed as a critical step in bringing more of Afghanistan's neighbours to the table. The United States said it would contribute US$40 million (Dh147m) towards administering the August presidential elections - which Mr de Hoop Scheffer called a "credibility test" for both Afghanistan and the coalition - and the European Union pledged twice that amount for the elections and agriculture development. France, too, said it was launching a major initiative to help train Afghan police and pledged to "massively enlarge" its work in the agriculture sector. Iran, meanwhile, said it was fully prepared to participate in counternarcotics and other development and reconstruction programmes, efforts that could lead to unprecedented co-operation between Tehran and Washington.

Still, even while Mehdi Akhundzadeh, the deputy foreign minister of Iran, said his country welcomed proposals for joint co-operation on Afghanistan, he offered criticism of the military campaign there. "The people of Afghanistan know their country better than anybody else does," he said, according to his prepared remarks. "The presence of foreign forces has not improved things in the country and it seems that an increase in the number of foreign forces will prove ineffective, too."

The summit, called for by Mrs Clinton but held under the auspices of the UN, offered the first chance for the international community to weigh in on the new US strategy for Afghanistan announced last week by the president, Barack Obama. Conference delegates, representing almost 90 countries and international organisations, largely agreed on broad principles for turning around the war effort there, ones that largely coincided with those of the US plan. The priorities, as outlined by conference delegates yesterday, include strengthening the Afghan security forces, providing more civilian development assistance to both Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan, promoting good governance and expanding regional co-operation.

"Afghanistan is not an island, and the challenges are interlinked with the region through ethnic, religious and political bonds," said Maxime Verhagen, the foreign affairs minister of the Netherlands. The catch word of the day was "Afghanisation". Delegate after delegate said that although the international community can - and must - help provide security in the short term and lay the foundation for economic and political development sustainable in the long term, Afghanistan itself must take more ownership.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, used that term himself in his opening remarks, pledging to provide what his critics say to date he has not: an efficient and accountable government that does not tolerate corruption and allow the drug trade to flourish. Mrs Clinton highlighted the key elements of the new US plan, which includes sending 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan this year, including 4,000 to train the Afghan national army and police. The plan also includes a significant expansion of diplomatic and development efforts - a so-called "civilian surge" - both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, parts of which serve as a sanctuary for insurgents.

While not criticising Mr Karzai directly, Mrs Clinton said the Afghan government must be "legitimate and respected" and called corruption "a cancer as dangerous to our long-term success as the Taliban or al Qa'eda". "A government that cannot deliver for its people is a terrorist's best recruiting tool," she said. She also told the delegates to keep in mind an ancient Afghan proverb: "Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet."

Mr de Hoop Scheffer, who has warned against the "Americanisation" of the war, had previously called for an increase in troop contributions from Nato members - something they have resisted - but he did not use his remarks yesterday to renew that call. The United States seems increasingly resigned to appealing to its allies for other, non-military help. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, who attended the conference, called for re-energised efforts by the international community and a new balance of military and civilian work in what he said would be a critical year for Afghanistan. "There is real potential to make concrete progress in important areas, from fighting illicit opium production to increasing productivity in traditional agricultural commodities, from combating organised criminal groups to advancing regional economic co-operation," he said. "We should bring the same sense of urgency to addressing these challenges as we are bringing to the efforts to improve the security situation."

Mrs Clinton, addressing reporters on the sidelines of the conference, said the summit showcased a "unified voice" and that she hoped it would mark a "new beginning for the people of Afghanistan". Asked about Iran's participation, she commended it, stressing that the United States and Iran share interests in a secure and stable Afghanistan. She had no personal contact with the Iranian delegation, she said, but Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who also attended the conference, had a "brief and cordial exchange" with Mr Akhundzadeh, though not on "substantive" issues.

In a closing news conference, Kai Eide, the UN's special representative in Afghanistan, called the day's dialogue "robust" and said "we must expect more from each other" going forward. He also said "we must get away from a sense of doom and gloom" because much progress has already been made. "I hope that we can move from words to serious action on regional co-operation." eniedowski@thenational.ae