By Ray Fleming

GORDON Brown's impressive statement on Afghanistan yesterday set out the benchmarks and milestones that President Karsai will have to observe in the programme of reforms he has agreed to undertake in his second term of office.

At an international conference in London on January 28 President Karsai will be asked to commit himself to the reforms and their timing in the presence of representatives of the 43 countries involved in the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force.

The conference will be chaired by Britain's foreign secretary David Miliband and there will be a follow-up conference in Kabul to review progress in six months.

At his press conference with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in Trinidad and Tobago Mr Brown made clear that he was not setting a date for British withdrawal from Afghanistan but rather establishing criteria by which the right timing for an exit strategy can be judged.

On major issues President Karsai will be expected to put some 50'000 Afghan troops into security training and to begin the process of appointing 400 provincial and district governors to whom considerable authority will be devolved.

At the same time he will be expected to provide evidence of the effectivenesss of the measures he has introduced to curb corruption.
It is not clear how far Washington has been party to these plans but it would be surprising if the White House had not been kept in the picture.
President Obama is expected to speak on Afghanistan early next week.

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