By Zalmai Rassoul, Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. Published in “Die Welt” on 2 December 2011.
On 5 December 2011, ten years after the Conference on the Petersberg, Afghanistan will again meet with its international partners in Bonn. In 2001, Afghan representatives gathered under the aegis of the United Nations to lay the cornerstone for a political system following the demise of the Taliban. The conference this December, to be chaired by Afghanistan and hosted by Germany, will focus on helping an independent, sovereign and proud Afghanistan forge its future as a confident, secure and economically successful country. Even now, the nature of the international engagement in Afghanistan is changing. Long-term political, economic and security partnerships are increasingly taking the place of military stabilization.
Since the summer, Afghan police officers and soldiers have been taking over the responsibility for security in their country district by district, town by town, and province by province. The gradual drawdown of international troops has also begun. We have agreed to complete the withdrawal of international combat forces by the end of 2014. This is what the people both in Afghanistan and in the ISAF countries want. It corresponds to our common understanding that international troops should stay in Afghanistan only as long as they are needed there. From 2015, a sovereign Afghanistan will itself bear full responsibility for the country’s security. For security in Afghanistan is first and foremost an Afghan responsibility. Together, we are now creating the conditions to make this a reality.
But we must not forget that past experience makes many people in Afghanistan fearful about the period after the ISAF withdrawal. They are worried that the international community will leave them in the lurch again, as has happened before.
We cannot allow that to happen. The world must not repeat the mistakes of the past. Even after the withdrawal of ISAF, we must continue to work together to preserve and extend the progress we have made together so far. For that reason, Afghanistan needs a clear and reliable commitment to long-term engagement beyond 2014. That is our goal for the International Afghanistan Conference on 5 December.
We are expecting representatives from almost 100 countries and international organizations to travel to Bonn, as well as members of Afghan civil society, including Afghan women. Three important topics are to be discussed there.
First: the civil aspects of the gradual handover of responsibility for security by Afghan security forces, which is to be completed by the end of 2014. This process of transition is already under way. It is not only serving to prepare the military withdrawal, but also helps to consolidate the governance of Afghanistan by the Afghans. To make this aspect of the transition tangible for the population, we must focus on critical tasks such as building up the administration, undertaking rule-of-law reforms, and fighting corruption. Dealing with the economic consequences of the military withdrawal also plays an important role. In Bonn we will take stock of what we have learned from the experiences of the first six months of the security transition process.
Second: long-term international engagement after 2014 needs to be clearly defined. We propose three pillars: continued civilian construction, reliable financial aid and training for the Afghan security forces – to whatever extent and for as long as necessary – and support for Afghanistan in developing its enormous economic potential. One key step in this context was the joint launch in New York on 22 September with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of an initiative to strengthen Afghanistan’s role as an economic and trading hub in the region – for the benefit of the Afghan people and their neighbours.
Third: international support for the national process of reconciliation must be kept up. The Afghan Government has set out framework for a clear and comprehensive peace process. As hard as it is, and despite severe setbacks such as the assassination of the former president and head of the High Peace Council, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, the process of reconciliation ultimately remains the safest path towards establishing a lasting and inclusive peace worthy of that name.
Indeed, nobody wants a false peace. Renouncing violence, breaking with international terrorism, and respecting the Afghan constitution and basic human rights, including women’s rights, are all indispensable and non-negotiable elements for any agreement in the Afghan peace process. Afghanistan must also be able to count on its neighbours to respect and support its peace process, for stability and security in Afghanistan are closely tied to stability and security in the region. The regional conference held in Istanbul on 2 November at the invitation of Turkey and Afghanistan lent new momentum to deeper regional cooperation through the Istanbul Process. Germany and the international community support the path Afghanistan has taken here. In Bonn and thereafter we will build on these results.
The last ten years have demanded great sacrifices from the people of Afghanistan, but also from the international community. Our joint efforts and sacrifices have brought a great deal, both for international security and for Afghanistan’s development. Never before have people in Afghanistan – women and men, girls and boys – had comparable access to education, infrastructure and health care. However, we cannot be satisfied with what we have achieved so far. Afghanistan must become a stable community that is in no way a threat to peace. On this path, Afghanistan will continue to need the assistance of the international community, even after the agreed withdrawal of the international forces. In Bonn we want to lay the cornerstone for a strong, reliable engagement beyond 2014 – an engagement that above all will have a civil focus.