The new leaders of Afghanistan met Thursday in London with senior officials from dozens of countries and pledged to implement reforms designed to reduce their country’s reliance on foreign help.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani outlined to the assembled leaders his program, including economic, security and legal reforms, as well as initiatives to fight corruption, and to improve the rights of minority groups and women.
“We not only have the right program, but the political will to move forward. And we are determined to own our destiny," said Ghani. "And in this destiny, the assurance of partnership is an important one. And we look forward to working with you differently.”
Ghani said Afghanistan wants to wean itself off of foreign aid and military support, and move to a more normal relationship with the world, through trade and investment.
Indeed, this was not a donors' conference designed for pledges of future aid, but rather a chance for Ghani and his former rival, now partner, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, to present their vision and seek political support and investment.
The United States and Britain welcomed their effort, pledging Thursday to support Afghanistan's new unity government as foreign combat troops withdraw from the country after a 13-year involvement.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said President Ghani's new government had already made moves to combat money laundering and corruption since taking office in September in the first democratic transfer of power in Afghan history.
"Today was a very good first step in that effort from a government that is clearly articulate, clearly unified and clearly visionary," he said. "And obviously the proof is in the pudding. It’s going to take time to see how that gets translated.”
Kerry acknowledged that attacks by the Taliban will continue, but he expressed confidence that the Afghan security forces will be able to handle the situation after foreign troops complete their combat mission at the end of this month.
He added that if the government succeeds in its plans for inclusiveness, improving human rights and raising the economy, that should convince more Afghans to turn away from extremists.
British Prime Minister David Cameron stressed the importance of tackling corruption, saying businesses would only invest if Afghanistan could build strong, accountable institutions.
A statement at the end of the conference reaffirmed previous donor pledges of $16 billion over four years made at a Tokyo meeting in 2012, but it also emphasized that Afghanistan would not be able to survive solely on domestic revenues.
Officials also were encouraged by the presence of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who pledged to support Afghanistan’s effort to transition from a wartime footing.
Kerry said that “augers well” for the future, but added that initial improvements in the often hostile Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship will have to be carefully built.