The international community is looking for signs of progress on key issues ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan in Brussels next week, said Ambassador Richard Olson, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The European Union and the National Unity government of Afghanistan will co-host the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan starting Tuesday. Representatives from more than 70 countries and dozens of international organizations and agencies are expected to attend.
After nearly 15 years of war and billions of dollars in international aid, the Afghan government still needs international support. But Olson said that support should not be taken for granted.
“U.S. and international support for Afghanistan is not a blank check. Our support is conditioned and conditional on Afghan progress,” said Olson at an event organized by the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University on Thursday. “Our collective ability to continue providing significant levels of support to Afghanistan is dependent on the Afghan government’s performance and ability to work with us as an effective partner.”
Olson told VOA there are four areas of concern in the international community.
“First of all, further commitments on anti-corruption, electoral reforms, reforms on fiscal sustainability and on human rights, including rights of women,” he said.
Program of reforms
The Brussels Conference is aimed at endorsing a realistic program of reforms by the Afghan government to ensure continued international political and financial support for the country’s political and economic stability, state building and development over the next four years.
The meeting will be the second international conference on Afghanistan this year. It follows NATO’s Warsaw Summit in July, where U.S. and other NATO member countries pledged to continue to deliver training, advice and assistance to Afghan security institutions.They also agreed to fund the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) until 2020 by providing up to $5 billion a year to the Afghan government, a big chunk of which would be paid by the United States.
At the Brussels Conference, which is an extension of the 2012 Tokyo International Conference on Afghanistan, it remains to be seen whether the Afghan leaders will be able to convince the international community that they are on the right path to reforms and have delivered on promises they made in earlier conferences.
If its government convinces the international community, Afghanistan will receive a pledge of more than $3 billion a year in development support until 2020, Olson added.
President Ashraf Ghani assumed the presidency with a pledge to fight corruption in 2014. But the country continues to struggle with the issue. Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranks Afghanistan 166 out of 168 countries.
In 2012, at the Tokyo International Conference on Afghanistan, the Afghan government was required by the donor countries to illustrate its commitment to reforms, including fighting endemic corruption.
Dawa Khan Menapal, a spokesman for Ghani, told VOA that Afghans are going to Brussels with confidence about their record on fighting corruption and other reforms.
“We have considerable achievements in this regard, and also the government has made substantial progress towards reforms, including in the defense sector as well as other sectors of the government,” Menapal said.
He added the government has taken measures to bring reforms in the judiciary branch of the government, which has long been a source of complaints among Afghans.
And there are signs that some outside the government are seeing a sincere effort to address the problem.
Sher Jan Ahmadzai, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, believes that for anti-corruption efforts to succeed, there needs to be solid leadership that prioritizes reforms.
“During the past two years, indicators have emerged that the leadership of the Afghan government has the political will to go after corruption. These indicators in the past have been either very weak for various reasons or not present at all,” Ahmadzai said. “The international community has realized that Afghanistan is serious about fighting corruption.”
Afghanistan was on the brink of a civil war when both candidates claimed victory in the country’s 2014 presidential elections, which were undermined by serious allegations of fraud and irregularities.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham told VOA that the international community will do its part, but ultimately the Afghan people will have to push their leaders for needed reforms.
“I kept telling people that as I was going around when I was leaving Afghanistan that we can help — that the international community can help deal with a whole range of problems,” Cunningham said.
But to make the system work and to make the government work, it is the Afghans who need to do the hard work and have the statesmanship, he added.
“Politics is about conflict and confrontation, but it is also about getting things done. Afghans have to put their national interest ahead of their political and personal interests at a certain point. Success of this government is one of those things,” Cunningham said.
Ahmad Khalid Majidyar, a former analyst at the American Enterprise Institute who currently teaches U.S military officers on politics and security in Afghanistan, believes that the National Unity Government has had some successes in the past two years.
“For example,” he said, “the government has increased its national revenues, it has established an independent body to fight corruption, but still some of the key reform measures as stipulated in the political agreement of the unity government have not been implemented — most importantly, the electoral reforms.”
Ghani spokesman Menapal said key steps have been taken toward electoral reforms as well.
Follow the reporter on Twitter at @Alikozai86.