The gathering of world leaders at the International Afghanistan Conference on Dec. 5 in Bonn, Germany, is timely. While the momentous events of the Arab Spring have often dominated global headlines this year, Afghanistan remains a central preoccupation for the British government and many of our international partners for one overriding reason: national and international security.
Next week’s meeting offers a critical moment for the international community to reinforce its long-term commitment to Afghanistan. As we all share a common objective to ensure that the country never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorism, we also share a common purpose: to build the capacity of the Afghan government and the Afghan National Security Forces, so that Afghans themselves can be responsible for their own territory and their own future.
A decade on from 9/11, al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been significantly weakened, and today’s Afghanistan is unrecognizable from 10 years ago. But formidable challenges remain, and we need to ensure that when the last of our combat troops withdraw in 2014, the hard-won progress is not reversed. We must make sure that Afghanistan is strong enough to protect its own national security, and through that, our own. That will require an enduring international commitment to Afghanistan long after 2014.
Our strategy to ensure the successful handover of security responsibility to the Afghans by the end of 2014 involves three areas of work. We are helping the Afghans create a national security force resilient enough to cope with the challenges that will remain after 2014. We are aiding them to construct a state that acts in the interests of all its citizens. And we are supporting efforts to create a fair and inclusive political process.
We have already started the first phase of transition from International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) security to Afghan security. The second phase was announced Sunday, and will mean half the Afghan population will live in areas where Afghan security forces are in control. So we are on course to give the Afghan National Security Force responsibility for Afghan security by the end of 2014.
On development, the Taliban insurgency against the Afghan government will only be defeated when the Afghan people feel fully confident in the capacity of their government to provide justice, services and economic opportunities. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world with one of the highest incidences of child mortality and illiteracy, and it will seek development assistance for many years to come. But by 2014, we can help the Afghan government make further progress toward a state that is sustainable and able to provide basic public services to its citizens.
On the political front, we are helping Afghans develop a process that harnesses the strong allegiance of all Afghans to their nation to create similar allegiance to their state. A process needs to include groups who were excluded from the Bonn settlement in 2001, without being at the expense of others such as the Northerners or Afghanistan’s female population. The Afghan constitution guarantees the equal rights of men and women, and we fully support the Afghan government as it works to uphold this principle.
There is a clear choice now for the Taliban’s leaders. During their regime they failed to provide what the Afghan people and international community needed: a secure and stable Afghanistan that posed no threat to the world. The insurgents must know that they will never achieve their aims through violence. Now is the time to accept the Afghan government’s renewed offers of dialogue. The Afghan government and the international community recognize that the original Bonn conference did not include all Afghan groups. As Afghanistan looks toward building a brighter future, we believe there should be a place for all Afghans truly committed to peace.
A settlement in Afghanistan will enhance stability in Pakistan; therefore it is in Pakistan’s interests to play a positive role. Pakistan and Afghanistan need to work together to stem the flow of militants from either side of their border who continue to undermine the sovereignty of both democratic governments. And, in time, both countries will need to cooperate to manage those who are unwilling to reconcile with Kabul or Islamabad and remain intent on killing their citizens and destabilizing the region.
Other countries in the region are also vulnerable to instability in Afghanistan and should work together to support the chance of successful transition in Afghanistan and a more secure and peaceful region. The regional conference in Istanbul this month set out the first framework for political, security and economic cooperation in the region in the form of the “Istanbul process.”
At Bonn, we must reinforce our collective commitment to Afghanistan. Then we will use the NATO summit next May in Chicago to agree on how we will continue to provide security assistance after 2014. With international help, including beyond 2014, Afghanistan will continue moving down the path of greater peace and stability. That is in all our interests.
* Hague is the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary.