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Afghanistan - London conference preview

London conference to agree to court Taliban, fight graft

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2010-01-27 Latest update 2010-01-27 16:09 TU

Afghan President Karzai during a news conference in Berlin on 27 January 2010(Photo: Reuters)

Afghan President Karzai during a news conference in Berlin on 27 January 2010
(Photo: Reuters)

The final declaration of Thursday's London conference in Afghanistan is set to map out its backing for President Hamid Karzai's much-vaunted plan to negotiate with Taliban rebels. But foreign powers with troops in the country will also insist on more input in the fight against corruption. And insist on coordinated efforts for statements to the media, after differing responses to civilian casualties during operations by international troops.

According to information received by RFI, the conference will declare its support for Karzai and his government, despite criticism of his record and of his re-election last November. But ministers at the meeting will try to tie the Afghan leaders to a list of commitments, as well as backing Karzai's "peace at any cost" plan to win over Taliban fighters.

Here are the major subjects likely to appear in the final communiqué:

* Talks with the Taliban: The foreign powers will promise funds to pay for Karzai's attempt to win over some of the Taliban. He is set to give it another plug in London, although he has already made the plans public. They include promises of jobs, income and security to Taliban defectors who are not "terrorists" - a definition which appears to mean not currently working with Al-Qaeda.

* Fighting corruption: The government is to set up an "independent accountability board," which will be chaired by an Afghan shadowed by an international "advisor," as well as establish an "empowered" High Office and a major crimes task force. This High Office will also enlist more international involvement in fighting drug production and "competitive and transparent" management in the notoriously corrupt mining and hydrocarbon sector.

* Handing over security: The Nato-led military force in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), will hand over control of security to Afghan security forces - but only when they are judged ready to take on the role. The transition will take place district-by-district and province-by-province, and is currently expected to take five years. Neighbouring countries, such as Pakistan, are called on to ensure no support for illegally armed groups.

* Staying on the same page: Although the final communiqué is expected to recognise "Afghan primacy," measures are to be taken to ensure that its message to the news media is the same as that of the international force. The government is to be pressured to set up a joint media centre with Isaf, with a security spokesperson. Afghan government representatives, and Karzai himself, have in the past differed from Isaf's account of occasions where international forces have been accused of killing or wounding civilians. Isaf is to commit to rules of engagement designed to avoid civilian casualties "wherever possible".

* Economic development: The government is to reform ministries and improve some officials' pay. It will also set out "structural reforms" and agree a new International Monetary Fund programme. An increasing amount of foreign aid will be spent through the Afghan government, so as to increase its credibility and answer Afghan complaints that foreign agencies swallow much of the funding. But donors will insist that their complaints about Afghan official corruption are also answered.

* A further conference in Kabul is to be planned.

Many of these points were raised at last year's conference in the Hague and at the Paris conference the year before that. Since then the controversial presidential election has hugely disrupted Afghan political and adminstrative life, with a continuing battle over Karzai's choice of cabinet.

That may have affected the decision to postpone this year's legislative elections from May to September. But attempts to stabilise Afghanistan face many more challenges than the electoral process.

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