Kabul conference marks transition to Afghan leadership

Afghan President Karzai and UN chief Ban Ki-moon are to chair the conference.

Kabul: Afghanistan is set to host a key international conference in Kabul on Tuesday, aiming to chart a course for the war-torn country`s future and show supporters it is acting on past pledges.

The July 20 conference is being billed as a bid by the Afghan government to start a process of transition from dependence on Western backers to running the country alone and responsibly.

"The conference has two major goals -- one is to demonstrate Afghan political will and a concrete programme of action," Ashraf Ghani, conference organiser and a former presidential candidate, said.

"The second is to ask for realignment of the assistance so generously provided by the international community, to achieve our common objectives of a stable, secure and democratic Afghanistan."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and UN chief Ban Ki-moon are to chair the conference, to be attended by up to 70 international representatives, including about 40 foreign ministers -- led by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

While officials are adamant it is not a donors` conference, officials have said the United States, Britain and Japan could add billions of dollars to their existing commitments.

Karzai is expected to lay out a timeframe for Afghan police and military to take responsibility for security, allowing foreign combat troops to withdraw by the end of 2014, Western diplomats said.

Afghan officials are set to present proposals covering governance, economic and social development, rule of law and justice, human rights, peace and reconciliation, regional and global partnerships, and aid effectiveness.

Diplomats have said the Afghan government will also present progress reports, outlining achievements using international donor funds to rebuild the country since the Taliban regime was overthrown in late 2001.

The conference would mark another phase in what is now being called the "Kabul process", a series of conferences and other milestones such as elections charting the transition to Afghan leadership, a Western diplomat said.

"This process will help articulate a vision for Afghanistan, living in peace with itself and its neighbours," he said.

"The aspiration is to take the lead in identifying what Afghanistan has and what potential it has," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Central to this process, Ghani said, is a commitment from the international community to grant the Afghan government control of 50 percent of all donor funds within two years.

"This of course requires significant changes in public financial management, accountability and transparency from the Afghan government`s side," he said.

Since the Taliban regime was overthrown, only 20 percent of pledged funds -- of an estimated total of USD 40 billion -- had been channelled through the Afghan budget, leading to profound levels of corruption among the rest.

Ghani said Afghan corruption, while "intolerable and unacceptable”, did not involve aid money but drugs, land and commodities imports.

"Eighty percent has been the responsibility of donors, they have spent the money. There has been a lot of inefficiency in the use of that money.”

"Where is the accountability of the UN agencies, where is the disclosure of what they have spent their money on? It`s not a blame game, it`s a question of accountability," he said.

Trust funds would be set up and managed by international financial institutions to ensure adequate monitoring, he added.

Western nations are under increased public pressure to justify their aid and military commitments to one of the world`s most corrupt countries.

US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have said they want to pull out troops, the Americans from July next year, the British within five years.

Recent revelations that billions of dollars had been transferred out of the country -- much of it in suitcases declared to customs at Kabul airport -- have further unnerved Western leaders with their eyes on public opinion polls.

Ghani said Afghanistan was seen in the West through a prism of violence and corruption, while advances in areas such as health, education and infrastructure were overlooked.

"The other Afghanistan, the Afghanistan of hope, of entrepreneurship, of decency doesn`t get reflected," he said.

"We are at a time of unique opportunity to get Afghanistan right."

Bureau Report

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