Afghans weary of yet another summit ahead of Bonn Conference

An international conference on Afghanistan's future opens Monday in Bonn, Germany. But on the streets of Kabul, Afghans have low expectations a decade into the Western presence here.

Hermann J. Knippertz/AP
A view of the World Conference Centre (WCCB), in Bonn, Germany, Saturday. On Monday, the Afghanistan Conference will take place at this venue.

As leaders from around the world gather in Bonn, Germany to discuss the future of Afghanistan the stakes could not be higher. Question marks hover over NATO and Afghan forces' progress against the insurgency, the future of US involvement after its 2014 withdrawal deadline, and which factions in the conflict Pakistan will ultimately support.

Yet for many Afghans, the second Bonn Conference is little to be excited about. International summits like it have taken place on a nearly annual basis over the past ten years and most Afghans say they’ve seen little change as a result.

“I don’t think these conferences are for the good of Afghanistan. We’ve seen many other conferences where hundreds or even thousands of people came. During conferences here in Afghanistan, they closed the roads and people suffered due to strict security policies or even died in attacks during the conference, but they changed nothing,” says Zmary Sapai, a wholesale food merchant in Kabul. “These conferences are just throwing dirt in the eyes of the Afghan people.”

On Monday the second Bonn Conference will take place 10 years after the first one gathered shortly after the fall of the Taliban government. A decade ago Afghan and international leaders gathered to create a transitional government and pave the way for a new constitution.

Today the political and security situation in Afghanistan remains far from settled and Afghan leaders at Bonn will likely be looking to secure continued international support for the decade to come as they seek to create lasting stability.

The first Bonn Conference and the years immediately following it were marked with much hope following the ouster of the Taliban government and violence staying at relatively low levels. Within five years, however, the Taliban resurgence was well under way and the promises of reconstruction and peace seemed distant to most Afghans.

“If the coming 10 years are like the last 10 years, it will make the Afghans very concerned. After the first Bonn Conference they were saying that they were bringing democracy to Afghanistan, but they gave the country to warlords and jihadist groups,” says Babrak Shinwari, a former member of Parliament from Nangarhar.

Despite billions of dollars of international investment in Afghanistan’s reconstruction – more than $70 billion from the US alone – the nation has seen questionable progress.

Human Rights Watch was one of several organizations to issue a cautionary statement in the days leading up to the conference. The rights organization warned of a situation “dominated by poor governance, lack of rule of law, impunity for militias and police, laws and policies that harm women, and conflict-related abuses.”

Still, there is hope enough time remains to overcome the mistakes of the last ten years. In addition to time, many say improvement will also require enduring international funding.

The Afghan government currently gets 90 percent of its public spending budget from international donors and the World Bank recently warned that it will depend on billions of dollars in foreign assistance for years to come in order to stay afloat.

“From the Bonn Conference what we hope is that the Afghan government makes their demands and suggestions in a fair way that can convince the international community to keep their political and economic assistance for the long-term and maintain these achievements we’ve made over the last several years with the support of the international community,” says Zaifnoon Safi, a member of parliament from Laghman Province.

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