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Britain to Host International Conference on Afghanistan

Britain hosts a one-day international conference on Afghanistan this week to try to forge a common strategy to improve security, good governance and development in the war-torn south Asian nation. There is growing concern about deteriorating conditions on the ground as allies look for an exit strategy.

It has been eight years since a U.S.-led force toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, ushering in hope for stability, greater freedom and development.

But, that has been hard to come by. In London, Ahmad Farid Mall has been watching closely as events unfolded in his homeland and he frequently talks with relatives back in Kunduz in northeastern Afghanistan.

"I had information from my relatives in Kunduz that they are thinking to leave the country. They are not feeling safe. Every day there are one or two incidents in the city when people are killed, when people are shot," he said.

Mall fled Afghanistan in 1998 and finally settled with his family in London. There has not been much good news from back home - continued fighting and insurgent attacks.

Lack of security is a major issue and the key is training the Afghan forces, says security analyst Christopher Langton at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

"Our combat troops - what they are doing is sort of holding the line so that the Afghan security forces can be built and their capacity can be developed," he said.

Langton says there has been progress, but to make it sustainable will take time.

Another key element is to try and bring in Taliban insurgents willing to join the government side, says Britain's Foreign Secretary David Milliband.

"We know it is vital that there is full support for the reintegration of insurgents who are willing to live by the Afghan constitution, defend communities rather than attacking them," said miliband.

But security is not the only issue, a just released U.N. report says Afghans see corruption as an even bigger problem.

Speaking in London, the head of the U.N. office on drugs and crime, Antonia Maria Costa, discussed the findings.

"Corruption is the biggest problem the Afghan people perceive today - even greater than insecurity or poverty," she said.

Costa says the amount of money going into the pockets of corrupt officials equals about one quarter of the country's gross domestic product - to the tune of $2.5 billion.

Security and good governance are vital if development is to take hold, say analysts and those are the issues on the table in London when leaders, ministers and senior officials meet.

But there have been numerous conferences about Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted in late 2001 and billions of dollars have been pledged and spent to help rebuild the country. In addition, the United States and its allies have more than 100,000 troops to fend off a growing insurgency. And with a rising death toll among the soldiers, public opinion for staying on in Afghanistan is waning, including in Britain and the United States.

Shoring up support is vital says Christopher Langton.

"Refreshing weakening international political will is going to be a major part of this conference," he said.

General consensus is this conference has to come up with a common strategy to move forward and pave the way for an exit strategy.

Ahmad Farid Mall says something has to change.

"I think my people are tired and we cannot have this war, insecurity forever. I am afraid it can get worse," he said.

Mall says he would like to return home. He keeps hoping he might do so soon, but is not so sure that will happen.