Delegates from more than 20 countries have convened in Washington for a conference to plan for the post-Taleban reconstruction of Afghanistan.
The session here is only the first of a series of international meetings aimed at addressing the needs of the Afghan people as they begin to emerge from more than two decades of warfare.
In a keynote address, Secretary of State Colin Powell said it is too early to even estimate the cost of rebuilding, but he made clear the world community must not abandon the Afghans as it did after Soviet intervention ended more than a decade ago: "When al-Qaida is gone, when the Taleban regime has passed into history, we then have an enormous obligation, not only the United States but the whole international community, an enormous obligation to not leave the Afghan people in the lurch, to not walk away as has been done in the past," he said.
Mr. Powell said there can be no effective reconstruction effort until Afghanistan gets a multi-ethnic interim government that represents all the people of the country, including women, who he said must play a prominent role in all phases of the process.
Japan, the conference co-host, was represented by Sadako Ogata, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
She said that after 22 years of war and fragmentation, Afghanistan may finally be on the verge of peace. She expressed hope the global community will be more responsive to the needs of the Afghan people than it was when her ten-year tenure in the key U.N. post ended last year: "Just last year, I made an extensive visit through Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran and tried my very best to organize international support," she said. "I'm afraid my efforts fell on deaf ears. The international community was too indifferent towards the Afghans. And I believe the time has come to learn from our past failures."
Secretary Powell stressed that the one-day meeting here was not a fund-raising conference, but rather an effort to organize a long-term assistance effort starting with creation of a steering committee.
The process will continue later this month with a White House meeting, and a multi-lateral conference in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. That conference is to be attended by about 200 governments, agencies and financial institutions.