On January 28th, the London Conference convened to discuss the future of Afghanistan. The two main initiatives discussed by the more than 60 foreign ministers in attendance were a proposal for the gradual transfer of security responsibility to Afghanistan and, more controversially, an Afghan government plan to open negotiations with “moderate” elements of the Taliban. Both initiatives were approved by the conferees.
As noted in the conference communiqué, the conference “welcomed” the Afghan government’s plan to convene a “Grand Peace Jirga” to which elements of the Taliban will be invited. According to some reports, a preliminary meeting has already taken place between Taliban leaders and the outgoing UN Special Representative, Kai Eide.
The conference also supported the creation of an Afghan-led Peace and Reintegration Programme to encourage lower level Taliban fighters to disarm and reintegrate into Afghan society and agreed to establish a Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund to finance the programme. The fund has already received $141 million in pledges for the first year of its operation. The Canadian government decided to study the reconciliation plan proposed by President Karzai before committing any funds, however.
In addition, the conference endorsed a plan for the systematic handing over of responsibility for security to the Afghan government, with Afghan security forces “taking the lead and conducting the majority of operations in the insecure areas of Afghanistan within three years and taking responsibility for physical security within five years.” As part of this plan, Afghan National Army (ANA) and National Police force (ANP) are scheduled to grow to a combined total of over 300,000 personnel.
Whether any of the conference’s goals will be achieved remains to be seen. But it is likely that, if nothing else, the outlines of the international community’s “exit strategy” from the Afghan war have now been laid down.
Doug Saunders, Afghan endgame: From victory to compromise, The Globe and Mail, 28 January 2010
Julian Borger, Afghanistan conference sets out plan for two-tier peace process, The Guardian, 28 January 2010
Tom Coghlan & Catherine Philp, Five-year plan to ‘buy Afghanistan exit’, The Times, 28 January 2010
U.S. Department of Defense photo 020723-F-0201H-011