Clinton praised Karzai for his efforts to improve governance and reach out to insurgents [EPA]
There were many broad promises at Tuesday's nearly six-hour Afghanistan conference, but few concrete announcements.
The conference was attended by delegates from roughly 65 countries. It was the ninth international conference on Afghanistan, but the first to actually be held in the country.
Much of central Kabul was closed for the day to provide security for the conference. There were no major incidents, though a number of rockets were fired in Kabul overnight.
Several of them prevented Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, and Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, from landing at Kabul airport. They diverted to Bagram air base instead. The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force also reported arresting two people who were allegedly plotting an attack against the conference.
Discussion at the forum focused on three main areas: security, development and reconciliation talks with fighters opposed to the government. Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, received promises of sustained support on all three.
Security: A 2014 handover
Karzai told delegates that he hoped Afghan forces would take full responsibility for their country's security by 2014.
"I remain determined that our Afghan national security forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country by 2014," Karzai said.
"Our goal is to transform the organs of our national security forces into trusted institutions."
Nato secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen talks to Al Jazeera's James Bays
By most accounts, though, Afghan security forces are far from prepared to secure the country.
A recent report concluded that the US military routinely overstated the competency and preparedness of the Afghan army.
Other recent studies have found rampant corruption in the security services, and declared their growth unsustainable.
So US, Nato and European officials added a number of caveats to Karzai's timeline. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary-general, said any Nato withdrawal would be based on "conditions, not calendars".
"Our mission will end when, only when, the Afghans are able to maintain security on their own," Rasmussen said.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, made a similar point: She said withdrawals "should not be driven by a prescribed calendar, but by the reality on the ground."
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the Pakistani foreign minister, offered to provide training for the Afghan security forces.
"The framework for transition of security responsibilities... requires the capacity-building of the ANA and the ANP," Qureshi said. "Pakistan is willing to assist Afghanistan in this effort."
That offer is likely to be controversial in Afghanistan, where many have long viewed Pakistan's motives with suspicion. It was announced earlier this month, though, that Karzai agreed for the first time to send a group of army officers to Pakistan for training.
Development: Better co-ordination
Omar Zakhilwal, the Afghan finance minister, asked donors to channel 50 per cent of their aid through Afghan ministries within two years.
Only about 20 per cent of the aid sent to Afghanistan is currently funnelled through ministries; the rest is spent by NGOs and other organisations, many of which fail to tell the Afghan government how they are spending it.
Zakhilwal also laid out a long list of priorities for how that money will be spent.
Donors have contributed billions for agriculture, schools, and other programs [AFP]
He pledged to create 300,000 new jobs over the next three years through agricultural development programmes; to expand women's access to education; to improve Afghanistan's infrastructure, particularly its meagre railroad networks; and to expand foreign investment.
Zakhilwal offered few details on how the government would meet those goals.
He also acknowledged that the Afghan government struggles to raise its own funds, and to spend the money it receives.
"In the near term, our capacity to absorb money through the budget is limited, and we recognise that money provided by donors will be important," he said.
Karzai encouraged NGOs to adopt a "common framework" for reporting their budgets to Kabul.
"Civil society organisations have played an important role in the provision of social services," he said. "I call on NGOs to adopt a common framework on budgeting and reporting, and to disclose that information to the public."
Reconciliation: Praise for Karzai's plan
Attendees spoke comparatively little about Karzai's plan for reconciliation talks with the insurgency, which calls for jobs and economic incentives for "foot soldiers" and a political settlement with the leadership.
Karzai said his government has the "political will" to push forward with the plan, which was approved by a "peace jirga" in Kabul last month. Clinton said she was cautiously optimistic about the plan.
"There have been positive steps since last month’s consultative peace jirga," Clinton said. "But progress will depend on whether insurgents agree to be reconciled by renouncing Al-Qaeda and agreeing to abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan."
Clinton also said that the rights of women and ethnic minorities "will not be sacrified" in a reconciliation deal.
Habiba Sorabi, the governor of Bamiyan, worries about talks with the Taliban
The governor of Bamiyan province, the only female governor in Afghanistan, said in an interview on Monday with Britain's Channel 4 News that she worried women would be asked to "make sacrifices" in any deal with the insurgency.
And minority groups, too, worry that a reconciliation deal will trample on their rights.
Several countries renewed their financial commitments to the $750 million fund that the Afghan government will use to implement its reconciliation program.
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, for example, said that his country is committed to delivering 50m euros ($65m) over the next five years.
Source: Al Jazeera