Afghanistan eyes 2014 handover
Kabul - The international community on Tuesday endorsed sweeping Afghan government plans to take responsibility for security by 2014, forge peace to end nine years of war and take greater control of aid projects.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led 70 organisations and countries at a landmark conference in Kabul trying to put Afghanistan on the road to stability and allowing foreign troops to draw down.
President Hamid Karzai is under massive Western pressure to crack down on corruption, make better use of billions of dollars of aid money and get a grip on a Taliban insurgency now killing record numbers of foreign soldiers.
The Taliban, ousted from power by the 2001 US-led invasion, control large swathes of the south and have put up stiff resistance to a US-led surge deploying 150 000 troops under a last-ditch counter-insurgency strategy.
Karzai delivered a keynote address seeking to convince the international community he was capable of assuming responsibility for security and cleaning up government, but the lasting impact of the conference remains unclear.
The final communiqué backed Karzai's call for Afghan security forces to "lead and conduct military operations in all provinces by the end of 2014", allowing US-led troops to start going home.
Clinton said the plan laid out by the Afghan government was "comprehensive" and that the conference marked a "turning point", while British Prime Minister David Cameron said plans for a transition in four years were "realistic".
But the scale of the challenge was made clear by the thousands of Afghan troops, backed by Nato forces, who put Kabul under security lock down to prevent any Taliban attack on the conference at the heavily protected foreign ministry.
Despite the draconian security measures, the planes of Ban and the foreign ministers of Sweden and Denmark were forced to divert as militants fired rockets at the airport, underscoring the huge challenges facing Afghan troops.
Nato said several insurgents were killed in a shoot-out and two others arrested overnight to thwart the "final stages" of a Taliban attack.
Karzai said the international community had committed enough money to see Afghanistan through the next three years and called for greater control of the multi-billion-dollar aid budget for his impoverished country.
The conference urged Kabul to make reforms to strengthen public financial management and reduce corruption, saying at least 50% of development aid would be channelled into the government's budget within two years.
Previously, only 20% of $40bn of pledged international aid had been routed through the budget, leading to corruption among the rest.
"We all agree that steady transition to Afghan leadership and ownership is the key to sustainability," Karzai said.
He called on foreign allies to invest in major infrastructure projects that can transform the lives of Afghans instead of isolated projects that have minimal impact, do not win widespread public favour or support good governance.Reintegration
The conference also endorsed a peace and reintegration programme drawn up by the Afghan government in order to reach out to insurgents who renounce violence, have no links to al-Qaeda and respect the constitution.
Karzai last month won approval from Afghan leaders to start peace talks with insurgent leaders and called on the international community to back his efforts - despite at least initial scepticism from the United States.
The West is under increasing pressure at home to justify their commitments to Afghanistan, where the war has killed 381 foreign soldiers so far this year - including a Nato soldier who died in a bomb attack in the south on Tuesday.
Clinton emphasised that much more work faced the Afghan government - a refrain that was echoed by other foreign ministers in their speeches.
"The Afghan government is stepping forward to deal with a multitude of difficult challenges. We're encouraged by much of what we see, particularly their work to improve governance," Clinton told the conference.
"These steps are important. But much more work remains," she said.
British foreign minister William Hague, whose country is the second biggest supplier of foreign troops to Afghanistan, said: "We will always need to see that the government is making the best possible use of our and its own money."