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Asia-pacific

London Conference: the watch-for list

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2010-01-28

International attention is focused on a key multinational meeting on Afghanistan in London this week. Amid the talk, hype and jargon, FRANCE 24 takes a look at the concrete issues to look out for.

Representatives of more than 55 nations as well as major international organisations gather at London’s sumptuous, neo-classical Lancaster House on Thursday to discuss strategies to stabilise war-torn Afghanistan.

The roster of high-level attendees at the much-awaited London Afghanistan Conference includes Afghan President Hamid Karzai, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as foreign ministers of nations aiding Afghanistan's reconstruction.

But what exactly can the international community expect out of the conference? Here are some guidelines:

Topping the agenda: Talking to the Taliban

Reconciliation and reintegration of Taliban militants willing to renounce violence, al Qaeda ties and abide by the Afghan Constitution tops the agenda. The idea of talking to the Taliban is not new, but for the first time, this policy has the backing of the international community. In the run up to the conference, the United Nations struck off five top Taliban officials from its list of individuals subjected to sanctions. Karzai too has been talking up the issue. The US is said to be taking a more flexible stand on the matter although NATO military chief in Afghanistan, US Gen. Stanley McChrystal has been quoted as saying that foreign fighters allied with the Taliban cannot be reintegrated into Afghan society.

A fund for reintegration, of up to 500 million dollars over the next 5 years, is likely to be announced at the meeting. The would be donors are expected to include the US, Britain, and Japan with the latter two heading the fund.Germany has already pledged 50 million euros (about 70 million dollars)

New Appointments, New Posts

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to announce the appointment of a new UN special envoy to Afghanistan. The current envoy, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, is scheduled to leave Afghanistan in March. The list of likely candidates for the post, according to news reports, include Swedish diplomat, Stephan de Mistura.

AFGHANISTAN's DISPLACED FAMILIES
A new top NATO civilian has been named. He will work as a counterpart to the top NATO military chief in Afghanistan, McChrystal. As the new civilian chief, Mark Sedwill, currently UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan, will direct NATO’s non-military operations, including development and management of civilian aid. Sedwill takes office after the Conference.

Send in the troops

Shortly after US President Barack Obama announced the deployment of more than 30,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan, all eyes have been on fellow NATO member nations to announce similar moves.

Britain made an early commitment for up to 7,000 additional troops and in a surprise announcement on Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged 500. France’s Nicolas Sarkozy ruled out sending in more combat troops but is prepared to send non-combatants, such as trainers and advisers.

Canada and the Netherlands, however, are not expected to announce additional troop deployments.

Money not on the cards

Unlike most international conferences, money is NOT a big issue. There has been no shortage of funds for Afghanistan, says Andrew Jackson, policy analyst at the London-based International Council on Security and Development. The Afghan government estimates around $1.7 billion in aid has already been spent by international forces in Afghanistan, while more than $1 billion more is earmarked for 2010 by the US alone.

The main issue, according to Jackson, is how the money will be spent. Aid agencies are calling for a rethink of the international community's development strategy in Afghanistan. hey believe foreign military efforts to “win hearts and minds” through investment in development are often poorly executed and less sustainable than civilian projects.

Sideshow between foes

The meeting of foes is likely to be an entertaining sideshow.

Iran, Afghanistan’s western neighbour and a key player in the war-torn nation, has been invited to the conference. There is intense speculation if Tehran will indeed be represented. On Tuesday, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said Tehran was considering whether to attend.

Foreign ministers of arch-foes India and Pakistan will be present but are not likely to have a bilateral meeting, according to Indian press reports. Islamabad and New Delhi are intensely suspicious of each other’s role in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Buzz words: ‘Afghanisation,’ ‘civilian surge’

First officially used by Sedwill before he was named the new civilian chief, the term “Afghanisation” has subsequently been repeated by several others, including Sarkozy. It refers to the long-term goal of handing over the reins of the country to Afghans. Critics, however, quip that it is a euphemism for getting out of Afghanistan before the war-torn nation is capable of handling its immense problems.

The term “civilian surge” gained traction shortly after the Obama administration re-examined US policy in Afghanistan and Sedwill’s new job reflects the growing international focus on developing one of the world’s poorest nations.
 

Date created : 2010-01-27

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