Afghanistan to be in charge of own security

Milestone conference discusses Afghans' future

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In a landmark international conference under blanket security in Kabul on Tuesday, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that Afghans wanted to have responsibility for their own security in all of the 34 Afghan provinces by the end of 2014.

The 2014 timing is three years after President Barack Obama’s date for the start of an American troop drawdown in all of the 34 Afghan provinces.

"I remain determined that our Afghan national security forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country by 2014," President Karzai told the conference.

The conference billed as the first step of the Afghan government's transition from dependence on western backers to running the country alone and responsibly, it is the biggest international meeting ever to be held in the Afghan capital, where 40 foreign ministers led by US secretary of State Hillary Clinton are attending and a gathering representatives of more than 60 donor countries and funding institutions

Afghanistan to receive foreign funding

The delegates will hear that the United States and other international partners have agreed to grant the Afghan government control of 50 percent of all donor funds within two years, in an effort to control rampant graft.

In addition to that Afghanistan will ask its supporters to endorse and fund a new program to set up an armed community police, akin to controversial village militias, in remote regions with no foreign or Afghan army presence.

Also, Karzai announced that Afghanistan has enough foreign funding for the next three years.

The nine-year war in Afghanistan is now killing record numbers of Western soldiers and the Taliban control large swathes of the south despite a US-led push to boosting the total number of foreign troops to 150,000 in coming weeks.

There is growing alarm in the west over progress of a counter-insurgency strategy designed to reverse Taliban momentum and mounting concern about governance and graft in what is one of the world's most corrupt countries.

The conference

The conference opened shortly after 9:30 am (052D GMT) with a Koranic prayer, with Karzai scheduled to give a keynote address.

He is expected to detail Afghanistan's development priorities and lay out a timeframe for Afghan forces to take responsibility for security by the end of 2014.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who is to join Karzai in chairing the conference, has led international calls for him to unveil "concrete" steps to improve governance and promote national reconciliation after a nine-year Taliban insurgency.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who flew into Kabul late Monday for talks with Karzai ahead of the conference, said the meeting would be "very substantive and demonstrate more Afghan leadership".

Afghan officials are expected to outline proposals covering governance, economic and social development, rule of law and justice, human rights, peace and reconciliation, regional and global partnerships, and aid effectiveness.

Western nations are under increasing public pressure to justify their aid and military commitments to one of the world's most corrupt countries where the war has killed at least 380 foreign soldiers so far this year.

Afghanistan and the United States are trying to reach out to Taliban foot soldiers, offering them jobs and cash in exchange for laying down their weapons. Karzai has also called for peace talks with insurgent leaders.

Writing in the International Herald Tribune, Rasmussen -- who on Monday toured battlegrounds in southern Afghanistan where Western troops have seen the worst fighting, said a transition to Afghan leadership would not be rushed.

"This transition will not be done on the basis of an artificial timetable. It will be done on the basis of clear assessments of the political and security situation in each area," he said.

Central to the process, conference organizer Ashraf Ghani said, is a commitment from the international community to grant the Afghan government control of 50 percent of all donor funds within two years.

Since the Taliban regime was overthrown in 2001, only 20 percent of pledged funds -- an estimated total of 40 billion dollars -- had been channeled through the Afghan budget, leading to serious corruption among the rest.

While officials are adamant it is not a donors' conference, some have said the United States, Britain and Japan could add billions of dollars to their existing commitments.

Hillary Clinton assures Afghan women

In Kabul Clinton assured Afghan women that they will not be forgotten amid fears that peace efforts and a scaled-down foreign troop presence will bring Islamist extremists into the government.

Clinton and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told Afghan women leaders in Kabul that the west will not allow Afghanistan to return to the days of Taliban rule, when women's rights and issues were severely restricted and ignored.

"We understand why you have these concerns," Clinton told a group of about 15 women's rights activists, adding "This is a personal commitment of mine. I don't want anyone to be under any mistaken impression."

Peace in Afghanistan "can't come at the cost of women and women's lives," she said.

Ashton echoed that sentiment on behalf of the E.U.

"We're not going away," she said. "We are going to support you."

The prospect of a Taliban role in government has alarmed many Afghan women, especially as President Barack Obama has declared his intention to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from the country next summer amid growing unease in America about the course of the war.

Fouzia Kofi, a former Afghan legislator, told Clinton and Ashton she understood it was difficult to convince Westerners of the importance of the issue given deepening fears of a "never-ending war."

"They need to realize that peace here with the Taliban and bringing Taliban on board with a compromise of basic human rights and women's rights means taking this country back hundreds of years," Kofi said.

Clinton in the conference also said that the transition to Afghan leadership was too important to put off indefinitely.