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Analysts Debate Whether Karzai Ready for Post-Kabul Conference Mandate

  • Sean Maroney

Representatives from more than 60 countries and international organizations have left Kabul after endorsing President Hamid Karzai's strategy to gradually take more responsibility in guiding his country. Analysts say Afghan President Hamid Karzai has a strong mandate to take charge of efforts to guide Afghanistan out of years of war.

Delegates from around the world backed President Karzai's call Tuesday for the international community to channel at least 50 percent of development aid through the Afghan government. Donors have spent more than $40 billion on Afghanistan since 2001.

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Afghan Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhailwal says the government is ready for the responsibility.

He says the Afghan government knows the people's priorities, as well as the best way to balance development across the country. He says the government should control the foreign aid because it is its right to provide services and development for Afghans.

But the director for Afghanistan's Center of Research and Policy Studies Haroun Mir says he thinks the government is overestimating its capacity. He says most of the country's ministries already have failed to properly manage the $2-billion Afghan Development Budget.

"I do not know overnight how they could increase their capacity to observe even larger amounts of money," said Haroun Mir. "I think money is not the problem, but the problem is capacity within the Afghan government and most importantly corruption."

But Mir says Mr. Karzai has an opportunity to show Afghans and the rest of the world that corruption will no longer be business as usual.

For instance, the office of Afghanistan's attorney general recently announced that 15 ministers have ties to corruption, and Mr. Karzai's Cabinet supported his plan to create a new court for these prosecutions.

"We all wait to see a political will from President Karzai to truly publicize the names of those ministers who are accused of corruption and publicly indict them," said Mir. "And that would be probably a signal for Afghans and the international community that this time President Karzai is serious."

The international donors at the Kabul conference also endorsed President Karzai's plan for Afghanistan to take control of all military operations by 2014.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says he believes this is a realistic goal, and his organization plans to train about 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police by October of next year to help in the process.

"I feel confident that Afghan security forces will be able to take lead responsibility gradually when conditions permit, but of course it has to be a condition-based process," said Rasmussen. "We will not leave Afghanistan until our job is finished."

And so far, the job has been tough, with June being NATO's deadliest month in Afghanistan.

As an example of how tough, NATO announced Tuesday an Afghan soldier shot and killed two U.S. civilian trainers and one Afghan recruit at a training facility in northern Afghanistan. The attack comes a week after a similar incident in which an Afghan soldier killed three British troops in the southern part of the country.

But analyst Haroun Mir says he believes officials do not properly screen Afghan recruits, and militants will take advantage of this.

"This is certainly a big blow to those who want to create a large Afghan security force within a short period of time," he said. "And it has its own challenges. And this is why it is an overestimation by President Karzai when he says that by 2014 the Afghan government will take full responsibility for security."

Aside from these debates, some Kabul residents, such as Abdul Jabar, are happy Afghanistan hosted its own conference, which was the largest international gathering in the country since the 1970s.

"This was very good that this conference was held in Kabul," said Jabar. "And I think it is a very big success for Afghanistan."

But the former presidential rival of Mr. Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, says he believes this year's series of conferences is not enough.

"Towards the end of the year, the government will count as its achievements three things: London conference, Peace Jirga, and then Kabul conference," said Abdullah Abdullah. "How all these three events [have] impacted the lives of the ordinary people and inspired hope towards the future, these are big questions."

If President Karzai's government falters, some analysts say the international coalition's only choice will be to more actively pursue a deal with the militants to end the fighting.

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