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Afghanistan Makes Promises, But No Guarantees

Wed, 21st Jul 2010 10:24

KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP)--An Afghan pledge to take over national security by 2014 plays into the hands of Western supporters eager to pull their soldiers out of an unpopular war, but there are no guarantees of success.

War-weary Western leaders have welcomed the latest promises from Afghanistan to take responsibility for security, control spending of billions of dollars in aid and broker a peace process to end a nine-year Taliban insurgency.

But observers said the true focus for the West is pulling their soldiers out of a war increasingly unpopular with voters, also tired of pouring their taxes into the impoverished country.

"Now the focus is very much on transition and donors being able to tell their voters when their soldiers are coming home," said Ashley Jackson, head of policy and advocacy for Oxfam International in Afghanistan.

"I think this truly is the last strategy that will get this kind of backing from donors. Patience and support are running out," she said.

Tuesday's Kabul conference drew representatives from around 80 countries and organizations to endorse a proposal by President Hamid Karzai that Afghan forces take over responsibility for national security by 2014.

Karzai also won a concession for the Afghan government to control within two years 50% of aid, up from the previous 20%.

There was support too for his plan to talk peace with the Taliban, and possibly include them in government, welcomed by many in the West as a way to end a war increasingly seen as bogged down in the insurgency's favor.

The conference decisions--contained in a communique that was debated until the last minute--were hailed by U.S. President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron.

Obama said it was a "major step forward" for the future of Afghanistan while Cameron, who was in Washington, described 2014 as a "realistic" timeframe.

Benchmarks for Afghanistan's progress on pledges had been set up by the international community, but there were no sanctions in case they aren't met, officials and diplomats said.

Trust funds and management structures for international aid were built in, they noted, auditing government spending before reimbursement.

No such safeguards apply to targets for building up the army and police to take over from foreign troops, though the timetable is punishingly fast and has been widely criticized as aiming for quantity not quality.

"It took us more than eight years to build the Afghan National Army of 60,000 troops, and the same with the Afghan National Police," analyst Haroun Mir said.

"Will we be able to reach 400,000 by the deadline? These figures are not based on sound calculations, rather than pressure from Britain and the United States, it's about appeasing public opinion at home," he said.

Recent incidents in which Afghan police and soldiers have shot dead their Western mentors pointed to Taliban infiltration of Afghanistan's security forces, he said.

Security is deteriorating. The war is intensifying in the southern Taliban heartland. Insurgents have stepped up attacks in the previously peaceful north.

Janan Mosazai, a candidate for parliamentary elections scheduled on Sept. 18, said the impetus behind the conference was a desire by the international community "to leave Afghanistan within the next five years."

"This government doesn't have the credibility, legitimacy or ability to pull all these elements together within the next four years," he said.

"We can have a transition for security but in terms of building the foundations for lasting stability after we see the back of the last foreign troops, the capacity just does not exist."

Putting more aid money through government coffers, and applying international standards of accountability should reduce levels of corruption and embezzlement, observers said.

Whether the money is spent on projects that make a difference to the lives of ordinary Afghans was another question, Oxfam's Jackson said.

"The real issue which seems to be getting lost in all of this is not who gets the money, but whether it actually makes an impact and reaches Afghans," she said.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 21, 2010 05:24 ET (09:24 GMT)

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