Afghan leaders met today with international officials and diplomats near Bonn, Germany, to assess progress on bringing stability, democracy, and reconstruction aid to Afghanistan.
Prague, 2 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- International leaders meeting near Bonn today to assess reforms in Afghanistan praised the progress in the country since the ouster of the Taliban regime one year ago.
But the praise has been mixed with warnings that much more remains to be done before reaching the key goal of last year's Bonn accords: to pave the way for free and fair elections in Afghanistan by 2004.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the gathering that bringing an end to fighting in the Afghan provinces between rival factions is one of the most important tasks for his administration as it tries to encourage citizens to rebuild what is left of their lives after 23 years of war. "Security is the top priority of our people. Within a secure environment, our people can give expression to their entrepreneurial energies. Without security, the risks to their efforts are too great," Karzai said.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer set the tone of the conference in opening remarks that praised the efforts of Karzai's administration so far. "I congratulate you, Mr. Karzai, and your government for the successes of the new order and stabilization of the country during the past year. At any rate, without international assistance, you will not be able to finish the job," Fischer said.
Fischer also emphasized that bringing peace, stability, and prosperity to Afghanistan is an essential part of the international campaign against terrorism. "The international community has a special task in Afghanistan. The readiness to liberate the people of Afghanistan from the terrible yoke of the Taliban, and moreover, to help the country and the government in Kabul with reconstruction, is of key significance for the international community in its fight against terrorism. It is nothing less than a struggle of the civilized world against international terrorism, irrational fanaticism, and inhuman criminality," Fischer said.
Karzai welcomed Fischer's remarks. He said the Afghan people are exhausted from decades of war and that Afghans reject extremism and are ready to embrace international help toward reaching the goals of the Bonn accords. "Our people reject all forms of extremism. The consensus is centrist and national. Our national unity has never been stronger. Consequently, we have the national will to mobilize ourselves to achieve national goals. Our national goals are premised on international cooperation. A secure, stable, prosperous, and democratic Afghanistan would be a major asset to the international community and the region," Karzai said.
For his part, Fischer told the Afghan leaders and representatives from 30 countries at today's conference that the creation of an administrative framework for the Afghan government was one of the major successes of the international community during the past year. "Everyone who is present here has made great accomplishments in the past year in Afghanistan. The United Nations, the [UN] secretary-general [Kofi Annan], and especially his special representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, have performed a great service to Afghanistan in the reconstruction of the administrative structure [of government] and in easing the suffering [of people there]," Fischer said.
But Fischer suggested that unless the international community does more to help improve the lives of ordinary Afghans, the situation in the country could easily deteriorate. "Human rights and better living conditions have to be established throughout the country. The danger still exists of renewed Islamist terrorism in Afghanistan," Fischer said.
Fischer also warned that an end must be brought to ongoing clashes between factional leaders whose private armies still dwarf the embryonic Afghan national army. "The situation in the provinces is anything but secure. I experienced that during my visit [to Afghanistan last month]. The provinces have to be incorporated into the peace-and-reconstruction strategy of the central government," Fischer said.
The dominance of security issues during today's meeting comes as no surprise to those who have been monitoring developments in Afghanistan during the past year. Clashes between rival faction leaders have hampered reconstruction and the repatriation of refugees across much of the country since Karzai took power last December.
Today's conference was also overshadowed by violent events in several parts of Afghanistan over the weekend.
Yesterday, U.S. officials confirmed that a B-52 was called in to support U.S. special forces that had come under fire from unknown attackers in western Afghanistan. That attack took place near fighting between the ethnic Tajik troops of Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan and the Pashtun fighters of commander Ammanullah Khan. At least 13 people were killed in that fighting.
Three people were killed yesterday when gunmen from rival factions clashed in the southern city of Kandahar.
And in the southeastern Afghan province of Khost, an explosives-laden truck detonated near an air base where U.S. troops are stationed. As that blast occurred, suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda sympathizers also fired four rockets at the U.S. base.
But today's conference also addressed concerns about the slowness of international aid that had been promised for Afghanistan last January.
Issues linked to the drafting of a new Afghan constitution were also discussed, including the extent to which the government should be influenced by Islamic law and whether the constitution should enshrine clauses guaranteeing equal rights for Afghan men and women.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder today raised the issue of the need to enhance the rights of Afghan women. "The Afghan government has to energetically counteract any and all forces that want to ban women from universities and schools or in other ways revive the conditions of the Taliban era," Schroeder said.
Fatima Gilani, an Afghan activist attending today's conference, told RFE/RL that she thinks most Afghans are ready to embrace democracy. "I expect that this time we will open our eyes and use the opportunity for democracy. We should also make preparations for the next elections that will take place in two years. We should take these elections very seriously because this is the desire of all the people of Afghanistan: to have democracy in the country," Gilani said.
The Afghan government also came under pressure to take stronger measures against the production and smuggling of heroin and other drugs. Heroin production in Afghanistan has proliferated since the ouster of the Taliban regime.
Karzai told the conference today that his government is dedicated to eliminating drug production in Afghanistan because "the money produced by drugs goes hand in hand with terrorism and extremism."