By: Kavita Bapat
A decade ago, an international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany, attempted to plan for the future of the war-torn country. At that time, aspirations for a successful transfer of power in Afghanistan, as well as for security and the development of human rights were spoken about. Amid ongoing uncertainty ten years later, a second Bonn Conference has been set to reexamine these issues and layout a new roadmap.
According to projections from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan will remain dependent on foreign economic aid until 2025. Paired with the continuing costs of bolstering Afghanistan’s police force and army, a minimum of $10-billion in annual assistance is necessary after the planned departure of foreign troops by 2014. Afghanistan’s final report on its economic situation claimed that although “at first glance this figure may look enormous, it will be lower than a single year of current military expenditure by the international community, which amounts to approximately $140-billion.” Highlighting the need for continued financial assistance, the World Bank expects to see Afghanistan’s economic growth, which has risen to 11% in recent years, halved as security sector responsibility is handed over to national forces over the next three years. According to a US Congressional assessment, “this decline, if left unmitigated, could have a serious effect on stability, particularly in those regions and sectors that have been most bolstered by external funding.” As part of its ongoing process of transition, Afghan forces have assumed security responsibility for over half the country, though foreign combat forces continue to provide military support and advice in those regions. Though all donors are under severe budget constraints, senior officials from several international organizations claim that economic assistance is “an obligation that has to be met to ensure that we don’t throw away 10 years of blood and treasure spent fending off a Taliban return.”
The Bonn Conference, chaired by Afghanistan and attended by more than 100 delegations, will seek donor commitments to ensure that support is not abandoned after the official end of military operations. The conference is set to formulate a new roadmap for the next ten years (2014-2024) of engagement between the international community and Afghanistan. Former Ambassador of Afghanistan to France, Omar Samad, posits that the roadmap is a comfort to many Afghans who have been “gripped by a sense of uncertainty mixed with frustration, baffled that a decade of staggering investment in their country has yielded such precarious results in areas such as security, political cohesiveness, economic sustainability and neighbourly relations.“
The ability of international partners to engage with a fair representation of Afghan society will be significantly hampered by the refusal of militants to be part of such a conference thus far. The focus of any reconciliation or legitimate political outreach discussed at the summit, according to conference organizers, will look at “encouraging the armed opposition to join a participatory and pluralistic peace-building structure leading to democratic governance, tightening the parameters for a just settlement that would leave no wiggle room for forces that adhere to violence.” The Bonn Conference is set to shift the focus from a “pledging conference” to determining an effective means of managing transformational responsibilities as the security baton in Afghanistan passes from foreign soldiers to national security forces.
In the face of the proposed 2014 foreign troop withdrawal, individual geo-strategic alliances between Afghanistan and its global partners are set to be forged in Bonn. Former Ambassador Samad claims that these accords can prove mutually beneficial as “agreements and mechanisms can be created so that [Afghanistan] will adhere to principles of democratic governance, institution building, and access to economic opportunity.”
On a more negative note however, the Afghan government has been accused of chairing the conference without recognition of the parliamentary opposition, civil society representatives, and women’s groups. Samad claims that Afghan social and political leaders should re-consider shutting out these groups, as they have an over-arching duty to nurture a unified Afghanistan and mould a national identity. Furthermore, he claims that the Bonn Conference presents “a new opportunity to help instill a belief in common national interest rooted in moderation and equality that transcends tribal, linguistic, and sectarian loyalties.”
Though it remains to been how words will be put into action, the international community remains optimistic that Bonn will be the site of a breakthrough on the future of Afghanistan.
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Atlantic Council of Canada.