Afghanistan’s new leaders have sought to build bridges with the West at a conference in London as they struggle to bring peace while foreign combat forces withdraw after 13 years.
The conference on Thursday, opened by British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, is not expected to deliver new cash pledges. It will, however, provide a platform for President Ashraf Ghani and chief executive officer Abdullah Abdullah to outline their reform plans.
It comes after the two agreed to form a national unity government in September and as the US-led NATO force ends its combat mission amid a surge in Taliban attacks against international targets in Kabul.
Ghani and Abdullah are being joined by prominent figures, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and David Cameron, the British prime minister.
“Afghanistan is entering a new chapter in its history, the start of a Transformation Decade, where it will take the lead in managing its own development and security,” Hammond said as he opened the conference.
“But we should not underestimate the scale of the challenges ahead nor the enduring need for a strong partnership between Afghanistan and the international community.”
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Ghani wants to implement a national “strategy of self-reliance” including tackling corruption, improving security and governance plus boosting exports.
Despite pouring billions of dollars into supporting Afghanistan after the Taliban regime was toppled in 2001, the international community had a fraught relationship with Ghani’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai.
Many diplomats are now hoping to reset relations under the former World Bank economist, although he has yet to appoint any new ministers to his government.
Al Jazeera’s Simon McGregor-Wood, reporting from London, said that there was a worry that the international community has been becoming wary of Afghanistan at a time when it needs it the most.
“This is a crucial moment for history in Afghanistan, a transition point,” he said.
Ghani will visit the US early next year when US officials will discuss with him whether to prolong further the timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, Peter McKinley, Obama’s pick as his next ambassador to Kabul, said on Tuesday.