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Afghan President Pleads For Long-Term Aid

Dec 5, 2011
Originally published on December 5, 2011 7:22 pm

A decade ago, shortly after the Taliban had been driven out of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, the international community gathered in Bonn, Germany, to talk about rebuilding Afghanistan.

On Monday, more than 100 countries again gathered in Bonn, this time to see how they could maintain support for Afghanistan after the U.S. and NATO wind down their combat operations in three years.

Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, said he was grateful for all the help his country has received, and he appealed to the international community to keep it up.

Many delegates at the conference, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, assured Karzai they would stay the course.

If the sheer number of delegates and the tenor of their speeches were used as the gauge, Karzai's concerns about being abandoned would seem unwarranted.

But Karzai knows there's a lot of time between now and 2014, and that many nations could lose interest in Afghanistan or shift priorities.

"The Afghan people do not wish to be a burden for a single day longer than is absolutely necessary," he said. "But to make our success certain and our progress irreversible, we will need your steadfast support for at least another decade."

Afghan Economy Still Weak

Karzai spoke of the need for ongoing help to build Afghanistan's economy, which is expected to take a big hit once NATO troops leave. He said Afghanistan will also need foreign troops to help train and advise Afghanistan's security forces.

Clinton said the U.S. would not abandon Afghanistan.

"The United States and our international partners must remain committed to training, advising and assisting Afghan forces, even as together we continue to go after those who are unwilling to end the conflict or who are engaging in acts of terrorism," she said.

Clinton said in exchange, Afghans must live up to their commitments to strengthen democracy and embrace reform.

She said all of Afghanistan's neighbors have a role in ensuring the country's stability. She made a pointed reference to Pakistan, which boycotted the conference in a show of anger after NATO airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani troops last month along the border with Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO are investigating the episode.

"The entire region has a stake in Afghanistan's future and much to lose if the country again becomes a source of terrorism and instability — and that is why we would, of course, have benefited from Pakistan's contribution to this conference," she said. "And to that end: Nobody in this hall is more concerned than the United States about getting an accurate picture of what occurred in the recent border incident."

While Pakistan stayed away from the conference, Afghanistan's western neighbor, Iran, did attend.

Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said his country stands ready to support Afghanistan. But he denounced the idea that some Western troops might remain in the country after 2014.

The Bonn conference did not include financial pledges. Those will likely come at a donor's conference expected in Tokyo next summer.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

And I'm Lynn Neary.

At least another decade. That was the message today from Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai. He told an international audience that he is grateful for the help his country has received over the past decade, but that securing gains made so far will take just as long.

Karzai was speaking in Bonn, Germany, where representatives from 100 countries and international organizations gathered to discuss Afghanistan after 2014. That's when the U.S. and NATO are due to end combat operations and pass responsibility for security to the Afghans.

Many of the delegates at the conference, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, assured Karzai they would stay the course. NPR's Jackie Northam is traveling with the secretary and sent this report.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: If the sheer number of delegates and the tenor of their speeches were used as a gauge, Karzai's concerns about being abandoned after the drawdown of Western troops would seem unwarranted. But even Karzai knows there's a lot of time between now and 2014, and that many nations could lose interest in Afghanistan or shift priorities. And so he launched an impassioned appeal from the podium.

PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI: The Afghan people do not wish to remain a burden for a single day longer than absolutely necessary. But to make our success certain and our progress irreversible, we will need your steadfast support for at least another decade.

NORTHAM: Karzai, like many other delegates, talked about the need for continued support to help build Afghanistan's economy, which is expected to take a big hit once NATO troops leave, and it's government. He said it will also need foreign troops to help train and advise Afghanistan's security forces. Secretary Clinton responded for the U.S.

SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: For our part, as coalition combat forces draw down, the United States and our international partners must remain committed to training, advising and assisting Afghan forces, even as together we continue to go after those who are unwilling to end their conflict or who are engaging in acts of terrorism.

NORTHAM: Clinton said in exchange, Afghans must live up to their commitments to strengthen democracy and embrace reform. She said all of Afghanistan's neighbors have a role in ensuring the country's stability. She made a pointed reference to Pakistan, which boycotted the conference in a show of anger, after NATO airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani troops late last month along the border with Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO are investigating the incident.

CLINTON: The entire region has a stake in Afghanistan's future and much to lose if the country again becomes a source of terrorism and instability. And that is why we would, of course, have benefited from Pakistan's contribution to this conference. And to that end, nobody in this hall is more concerned than the United States is about getting an accurate picture of what occurred in the recent border incident.

NORTHAM: While Pakistan stayed away from the conference, Afghanistan's western neighbor, Iran, did attend. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran stands ready to support Afghanistan, but he condemned any notion that some Western troops would remain in the country after 2014. The Bonn conference passed without any incidents or financial pledges. A donor's conference is expected in Tokyo next summer. Jackie Northam, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.