Afghan President Hamid Karzai sought on Tuesday to convince an international conference in Kabul that his government could assume security responsibility by 2014 and demanded greater control of aid money.
Karzai is under massive Western pressure to crack down on corruption and take the lead in facing down a nine-year Taliban insurgency now killing record numbers of foreign soldiers and swallowing billion of dollars of money.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led representatives from 70 organisations and countries who used the conference to urge Kabul to work harder to meet its goals and clean up corruption.
Although the meeting began without incident, NATO said several insurgents were killed in a shootout and two others arrested near the capital overnight to thwart the “final stages” of a Taliban attack.
Karzai said the international community had committed enough money to see Afghanistan through the next three years and called for greater control of the multi-billion-dollar aid budget for his impoverished country.
“We all agree that steady transition to Afghan leadership and ownership is the key to sustainability,” he said.
He called on foreign allies to invest in major infrastructure projects that can transform the lives of Afghans instead of isolated projects that have minimal impact, do not win widespread public favour or support good governance.
Since 2001, only 20 per cent of the total $40 billion of pledged international aid had been channelled through the Afghan budget, leading to serious corruption among the rest.
Ban, who joined Karzai in chairing the conference and has called for concrete steps to improve governance and promote national reconciliation, called on Afghans to take greater responsibility for all their challenges.
“Let us also be clear — just as Afghans are taking greater responsibility for governance and development, so must they take greater responsibility for security as well,” he said.
Clinton said transition to Afghan leadership could not be put off indefinitely but said much more work faced the Afghan government — a refrain that was echoed by other foreign ministers in their speeches.
“The Afghan government is stepping forward to deal with a multitude of difficult challenges. We’re encouraged by much of what we see, particularly their work to improve governance,” Clinton told the conference.