LONDON will be the location at the end of this month of an international summit to agree a new five-year plan to speed up the reconstruction of Afghanistan and confront the growing terrorism there. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and, of course, Tony Blair will attend. The US invasion of Afghanistan following 9/11 is almost five years away and so the timing of this conference may be intended to convey the impression that completed first five-year plan is to be succeeded by second. The flaw in any such thinking, however, is that although some of the structures of democratic government have been put in place in Afghanistan they are relevant only to the capital Kabul while much of the rest of the country remains lawless. Regional and tribal unrest and a resurgence of the Taliban are responsible for holding down some 18'000 US troops, a number which Washington is keen to see reduced and replaced by additional Nato forces which currently total about 10'000. Although the background of the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq were quite different, subsequent developments have been similar in that in each the attractive outline of a democratic and economically viable country has been drawn while the reality on the ground has been very different indeed. Kofi Annan's hope that the London Conference will “reassure the Afghan people that the outside world continues to share their goals as they build a democracy that respects the rights of all” sounds like mere word-spinning as suicide bombings and opium cultivation are both on the increase. A more realistic judgement came from the UN's head of operations in Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, who said that recent violence had “served as a sad reminder of the magnitude of the outstanding tasks in the consolidation of peace.”


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