The international community has endorsed sweeping Afghan government plans to take responsibility for security across the country by 2014, as well as efforts to forge peace with extremist militants and take greater control of aid projects.
The endorsement came at an international conference in Kabul that included UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and senior officials from 70 organizations and countries that are trying to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan so that foreign troops can be pulled out.
Ban said the endorsement is a milestone for the Afghan government.
"What we have achieved is of tremendous importance," Ban said. "Never before have we had a more concrete vision of Afghanistan's future. Moreover, this vision was created by the Afghan people and government."
But with the endorsement, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is under more pressure than ever to crack down on corruption, make better use of billions of dollars of aid money, and get a grip on a Taliban insurgency that is now killing record numbers of foreign soldiers.
"I am very glad to see that we have a shared message and understanding of the strategic commitment of the international community to Afghanistan and of the understanding of the Afghan situation on good governance, on development, and especially and in particular on the political framework for peace and reconciliation," Karzai said.'We'll Be Ready'
Karzai vowed to conference participants that Afghan police and soldiers will be ready to take charge of security throughout Afghanistan by 2014.
"We appreciate the advances made by the national army of Afghanistan," Karzai said. "I remain determined that our Afghan national security forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country by 2014."
The Afghan National Police have been criticized for a slower pace of reform than the national army, including allegations of widespread corruption. But Karzai told the July 20 gathering that Afghan police and intelligence agencies also are moving forward on reforms.
"Our national police and national directorate of security have also shown progress," Karzai said. "Our goal is to transform the three organs of our national security forces into trusted national institutions dedicated to fulfilling their constitutional duty of ensuring the integrity and security of our country. To this end, we welcome our partnership with NATO and other nations."
Karzai also said Kabul wants more control over the disbursement of billions of dollars in development aid sent to Afghanistan by donor countries. He said donor funds need to be spent on Afghanistan's priorities rather than what he called "quick-impact" projects.Purse Strings
UN Secretary-General Ban recognized Karzai's dilemma over control of security and development funds, noting that today's Kabul conference builds on commitments under a compact forged six months ago at a similar conference in London
"We share your aspirations, and we understand your frustrations. We aware that, with the best of intentions, the government and its international partners have, sometimes, sought to achieve peace, security, and development without sufficient engagement of the Afghan people," Ban said. "At times, we have shown insufficient consideration for Afghan culture and history. The Kabul Process upon which we embark today is intended to do better."
Ban said Kabul already has a key role in the design of development programs. He urged Afghan authorities to act "in good faith" so those programs can be successful.
"The government has taken the lead in designing programs that the international community will support. These plans aim to deliver real results for real people -- you, the Afghan people -- without delay," Ban said. "They aim to establish effective democratic governance and guarantee your rights and the rule of law. Yet these programs cannot succeed without your support, without all of you acting in good faith."
U.S. Secretary of State Clinton told the conference that the transition to Afghan leadership is too important to put off indefinitely. But Clinton stressed that the international community also "expects results" from Afghanistan's anticorruption drive.Looking Forward
With resources and military personnel flowing into Afghanistan -- including nearly 10,000 fresh international troops in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan -- Clinton said the international community is working "around the clock to strengthen Afghanistan's security forces." She said there is still "much more work" to do before the Afghan government is able stabilize security across the country.
"With our Afghan partners, we are on the offensive in parts of the country where the insurgents have gone unchallenged for too long," Clinton said. "And we are matching our military efforts with an unprecedented civilian surge to help create stronger institutions and economic development."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague recognized Karzai's willingness to negotiate with extremist militants as an important part of an eventual political settlement in Afghanistan.
But the British foreign secretary suggested it is too early for Kabul to immediately take over control of how aid from international donors is spent in Afghanistan, saying: "Much progress has been made, but more is needed."On Alert
Central Kabul was under a complete lockdown on July 20 as Afghan security forces backed by NATO troops maintained a security cordon around the conference.
NATO meanwhile said that its forces killed or detained several Taliban militants who were in the final stages of preparing to attack the international conference in Kabul.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said by telephone from an undisclosed location that Taliban militants managed to fire four rockets at Kabul's international airport overnight.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt confirmed that the rocket attack forced him and the UN secretary-general to land at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul and be flown into the Afghan capital by helicopter.written by Ron Synovitz based on RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan reports; with additional agency reporting