An international conference tasked with seeking a way forward for Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO combat troops in 2014 has concluded in the German city of Bonn, with the notable absence of the Taliban and Pakistan from proceedings.
National reconciliation, along with the transition to Afghan sovereignty and international engagement after 2014, had originally topped the conference's agenda which brought together around 1,000 national delegations and aid organisations, representing about 100 countries on Monday. The delegates included 60 foreign ministers.
Without the participation of Pakistan or the Taliban, however, those goals appeared unlikely to be achieved.
Rage over an air strike late last month by NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers led Islamabad to snub the gathering.
Leaders of the Taliban, who have waged a decade-long fight against Afghan and international forces since they were toppled from power in 2001, said the meeting would "further ensnare Afghanistan into the flames of occupation".
"To make our success certain and our progress irreversible we will need your steadfast support for at least another decade"
- Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president
Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from Bonn, said that because Pakistan was missing from the international conference, delegates "can't make some of the progress that some had hope for here".
"In recent years, Western nations have had a twin strategy. One of the parts of that strategy is to hand over slowly security - province by province, district by district - to the Afghan security forces.
"The second pillar of the Western plan was to try and get some peace talks going. Try and get some national reconciliation. Try and get members of the Taliban to join the government side. And that part of the plan just isn't working. There have been initial talks, but they haven't managed to get the Taliban around the table.
"Most observers believe Pakistan is key in all of this, and that you aren't going to get any progress on that part of the plan if Pakistan is not even attending a conference like this."
Simon Gass, the NATO representative to Kabul, told Al Jazeera that while there was disappointment that Pakistan did not attend the conference, it is "too early yet to say that this will disrupt any of the [military and development] planning we may have".
He said that he hoped that after inquiry into the cross-border incident is complete and talks held that relations between Pakistan and NATO can be reset.
"No country has a greater interest in ensuring that Afghanistan has a stable and prosperous future than its neighbour, Pakistan does," he said.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, told delegates that her country was committed to investigating the November 26 cross-border strike.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Pakistani prime minister, said that his country remained committed to working with Afghanistan to arrange a negotiated solution to the conflict.
"I think we have evolved some mechanisms, and we are ready to cooperate," he said, referring to meetings with Afghanistan's military and intelligence chiefs on a framework for talks. "We are committed [to reconciliation], despite that we are not attending [the Bonn conference],'' he said.
At the conference, Karzai pledged to work with Pakistan, despite its boycott of the conference. He renewed his calls for Pakistan to act against sanctuaries that members of the Taliban are said to have in its tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.
Financial support pledged
"The United States is prepared to stand with the Afghan people for the long haul," Clinton told delegates.
|Afghans have expressed scepticism that the conference in Bonn will achieve its goals
The international community has "much to lose if the country again becomes a source of terrorism and instability," she added.
She said that the Afghan government would have to take "difficult decisions to embrace reform, lead in their own defence and strengthen an inclusive democracy rooted in the rule of law" in return for the continued support of the international community, however.
A previous conference in Bonn in December 2001 established an interim government for Afghanistan led by Hamid Karzai following a US-led invasion to remove the Taliban, who had provided a safe haven to al-Qaeda fighters.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle noted there had been "setbacks" in the decade of NATO-led operations, adding that the world had learned there would be no "military solution" in Afghanistan.
"Not all our objectives and expectations have been realistic. And yet, we have achieved a lot," he said. "Most Afghans now enjoy more freedom, peace and security than at any time in the past 30 years."
He said that to ensure the transition to Afghan sovereignty in 2014 was "irreversible", Kabul "must focus on strengthening public administration, reinforcing the rule of law and fighting corruption".
Westerwelle said the conference would also send the message that political support for Afghan reconciliation must be maintained.
"Despite severe setbacks, reconciliation is the path to durable and inclusive peace," he said.
Iran, Afghanistan's neighbour to the west, has expressed its willingness to support the country and welcomed the departure of international forces by 2014.
"Certain Western countries seek to extend their military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014 by maintaining their military bases there. We deem such an approach to be contradictory to efforts to sustain stability and security in Afghanistan," Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's foreign minister, said.
Meanwhile, the US is taking advantage of the conference to bolster long-term financial assistance for Afghan security.
Without foreign help, Afghanistan won't be able to pay for basic services needed by its security forces which are slated to increase to 352,000 personnel by the end of 2014. Clinton announced the unfreezing of hundreds of millions of dollars in development funds to Afghanistan at the conference.
In a communique issued after the meeting, Afghanistan pledged to step up efforts against corruption in return for greater international financial support.
|Lethal cross-border NATO strikes have sparked a fresh crisis in Pakistan-US relations [AFP]
"Afghan government institutions at all levels should increase their responsiveness to the civil and economic needs of the Afghan people and deliver key services to them," Afghanistan and its international partners said in the communique.
"In this context, the protection of civilians, strengthening the rule of law and the fight against corruption in all its forms remain key priorities."
Masood Ahmed, the International Monetary Fund's director for the Middle East and Central Asia, reiterated that message on the sidelines of the conference.
"Even under optimistic scenarios, for the next decade Afghanistan will need an extraordinary degree of donor support
to meet its financing needs for both security and development," Ahmed said. "As the fiscal situation in many of the partner countries of Afghanistan becomes more difficult, it will become all the more important to be able to demonstrate that the money is being allocated in a way that achieves its intended objectives."
A follow-up donor conference will be held in Japan in July 2012.
Karzai welcomed both political and financial assistance, saying that Afghanistan would, in fact, require international support for at least 10 more years.
"To make our success certain and our progress irreversible we will need your steadfast support for at least another decade," he said.
Even as delegates met in Bonn, however, violence continued in Afghanistan. A roadside bomb exploded next to a minbus full of civilians in the southern part of the country on Monday, killed at least five people.
One woman and four children were killed, while another six passengers were wounded, said Fareed Ayal, a spokesman for the Uruzgan provincial police.
The vehicle had left the main market area in Chor district when it struck the buried explosives.
In a recent report, the UN said that 1,462 Afghan civilians have been killed in crossfire between Afghan fighters and NATO forces in the first half of this year alone - a number that is up 15 per cent from the year before.