International Afghan Conference Signals 'New Beginning'
THE HAGUE (RFE/RL) -- More than 80 countries and organizations at a UN-backed
conference in The Hague dedicated to Afghanistan's future emerged with an
agreement to boost security, enhance regional cooperation, and promote economic
Delegates, who included U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon along with representatives from Iran, Pakistan,
NATO, the EU, and World Bank, described the meeting as "a new beginning "and "an
important day" for Afghanistan and its people.
Clinton said the broad attendance of representatives from around the world
helped create a consensus to support Afghanistan in its fight to take back its
country from terrorists.
She also said U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke had had
a "brief" and "cordial" exchange with Iran's deputy foreign minister, Mohammad
Mehdi Akhundzadeh, in which they had "agreed to stay in touch."
"We emerged from this conference even more committed to the common task of
helping Afghanistan prevail against a ruthless enemy and even more united in our
efforts to address the broad agenda facing the international community," Clinton
A joint statement, issued by the UN and the Dutch and Afghan governments,
outlined the priorities this way: "Strengthened security, enhanced regional
cooperation, improved economic growth, and stronger institutions."
UN Representative to Afghanistan Kai Eide described the conference as a strong
show of support for Afghanistan and said he hopes the countries who participated
will move beyond mere words.
"There have been a number of pledges to coordinate [efforts] better," Eide said.
"There is a long way to go there. And my strong hope is, of course, that in the
future we will see the words and the promises that have been given today turn
The conference in The Hague followed the March 27 announcement by U.S. President
Barack Obama of a new strategy that casts the conflicts in Afghanistan and
Pakistan as intricately linked.
The new U.S. strategy -- which has been welcomed by Afghan President Hamid
Karzai -- calls for extra troops for Afghanistan, increased aid for both
Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a renewed focus on targeting the Taliban and
Al-Qaeda along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"We are all encouraged by the renewed determination of the United States under
President Barack Obama and hope that the United States will once again lead the
effort to respond to the challenges we continue to face," Karzai said. "I'm also
confident that President Obama's leadership will be met by a regional ability to
respond from our other allies in Europe and elsewhere."
The U.S. strategy also calls for a significant increase in civilian efforts in
Afghanistan, reflecting what Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi
called Obama's enlightened view of the Muslim world, which he said hasn't
escaped the notice of the Pakistani people.
"There is now a growing consensus among policy planners of the futility of an
overemphasis on the use of force," Qureshi said. "The international community
has taken a pause for introspection and a candid reassessment of the situation."
He added, "The new administration in the United States has taken the lead in
this course correction. President Obama has captured the imagination of peoples
around the globe as a symbol of hope and change. His proposed way forward with
the Muslim world on the basis of mutual respect and interest has been greatly
appreciated in Pakistan. This is an auspicious beginning for us all."
Delegates at the conference called for a broader regional approach that includes
cooperation not only from Pakistan and Iran, but also from China, Russia, and
the Arab world.
Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Akhundzadeh said his country is ready to work
with the international community in the fight against drugs being exported from
Afghanistan and with Afghan reconstruction efforts. But he criticized the U.S.
plan to send additional U.S. troops there.
"Since the inception of the current government in Afghanistan, Iran has always
believed that Afghanistan's foundation is based on localization of the affairs
of that country," Akhundzadeh said.
"The presence of foreign forces has not improved things in the country and it
seems that an increase in the number of foreign forces will prove ineffective,
too," he added. "The military expenses need to be redirected to the training of
the Afghan police and army, and 'Afghanization' should lead the government's
Despite the criticism, delegates welcomed Akhundzadeh's presence at the
conference as evidence of Tehran's willingness to re-engage with the
international community on some critical regional issues. Clinton called it "a
promising sign" of future cooperation.
U.S. secretary of state also noted that there was a brief, spontaneous meeting
between diplomats from Iran and the United States on the sidelines of the
"In the course of the conference today our special representative for
Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, had a brief and cordial exchange
with the head of the Iranian delegation," Clinton said. "It did not focus on
anything substantive. It was cordial, it was unplanned, and they agreed to stay
Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted Akhundzadeh as denying a meeting had
"We would have informed our nation if we had talks with the the Americans over
Afghanistan in The Hague, like what we did about talks over Iraq with America,"
There has been no official diplomatic contact between Iran and the United States
in 30 years.
Unlike previous international conferences on Afghanistan, the one-day gathering
was not aimed at getting donors to pledge funds for reconstruction and
stabilization efforts in Afghanistan. Instead, delegates sought to bring new
force to the international effort to drive the Taliban and Al-Qaeda out of
Delegates also cited the necessity to reduce corruption in Afghanistan and
improve governance so it eventually can become a country that is stable and
Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta expressed confidence that the
conference will help all involved identify the best way to help his country, but
he warned of a serious challenges ahead.
"We are facing two choices in Afghanistan," he said. "If we succeed in our joint
journey, Afghanistan will become a crossroad of regional cooperation and
interaction between South Asia and Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Far
East. If we don't, it will become once again the launching pad for international
terrorism and the drug mafia."
With RFE/RL's Golnaz Esfandiari and Abubakar Siddique in The Hague and Ron
Synovitz in Prague
Copyright (c) 2009 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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