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Central & South Asia
Kabul under lockdown for conference
Tight security in place as delegates arrive for landmark talks on Afghanistan's future.
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2010 05:23 GMT
Thouands of troops and police have put Kabul under lockdown for the conference [AFP]

Delegates from more than 60 countries have arrived in the Afghan capital, Kabul, for a major conference on the country's security and development.

The meeting is scheduled to open amid tight security on Tuesday with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, giving a speech to outline his government's plans to improve security and make good on pledges of reform.

It has been billed as the first step of the Afghan government's transition from dependence on Western backers to running the country alone.

There are also reports that Karzai will announce plans for Afghan forces to take over security responsibilities in all 34 of the country's provinces by 2014, allowing US-led Nato forces to pull out.

Nato and the US currently have 143,000 troops in Afghanistan, a number that will peak at 150,000 in the coming weeks.

Another issue on the agenda will be the Afghan leader's plan to offer jobs and cash to Taliban members in exchange for them laying down their weapons.

That plan was endorsed at the last major conference on Afghanistan held in London in January.

Push for reconciliation

The conference is the first international meeting on the future of Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001 to be held on Afghan soil, and the ninth international meeting since the war began.

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All the previous meetings have been held in the West, starting with the Bonn conference in 2001, which made Karzai the head of the interim government.

Kabul has been locked down in a massive security operation, with thousands of Afghan and Nato soldiers deployed to guard against insurgent attacks.

The airport and key roads have been shut, and Monday and Tuesday were declared holidays.

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, is jointly chairing the conference alongside Karzai. He has called for the Afghan president to unveil "concrete" steps to improve governance and promote national reconciliation.

"We expect President Karzai and his government would come up with a concrete action plan... about the way to enhance good governance, promote further reconciliation and also how he can improve the security situation in his country," Ban told the AFP news agency.

Key donors attending the Kabul conference hope meeting will deliver assurances that their aid is being spent where it is intended.

Many Western nations are facing increased public pressure to justify their aid and military support to Afghanistan, which is widely ranked as one of the world's most corrupt countries.

Aid for Pakistan

Among those also attending the Kabul meeting is Hilary Clinton, the US secretary of state, who arrived in the Afghan capital late on Monday.

Al Jazeera's James Bays reports on the security preparations in Kabul

She had earlier visited neighbouring Pakistan, where she announced the first part of a $7.5bn aid package for the country, including funds for the construction of two hydroelectric dams.

Clinton said the funding was aimed at convincing Pakistanis that Washington's commitment to the country does not end with security.

US aid will also be used to renovate three hospitals, in Karachi, Lahore and Jacobabad; to launch several agricultural programmes; and to expand access to clean water in Pakistan.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the Pakistani foreign minister, said the US aid package would bring important benefits for Pakistan.

"This relationship is beyond security," Qureshi said. "This is a relationship that improves our purchasing power, our quality of life."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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