By Ray Fleming

HOW many of the delegates who assembled in Bonn ten years ago for the first international conference on Afghanistan's future imagined that they or their successors would meet again in the same place ten years later?

Yesterday there were representatives of some 85 countries and 16 international organisations present to hear what President Karsai had to say about his country's future but there was also one very important empty seat -- that of Pakistan, which had decided to boycott the meeting because of the Nato attack that killed 24 Pakistan army soldiers close to the Afghanistan border almost two weeks ago.

Also absent was any representative of the Taliban militias without whom Afghanistan's future cannot be realistically discussed. Opening the meeting yesterday morning, the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle assured the Afghan people, “We will not leave you. You will not be abandoned”. Hillary Clinton said much the same on behalf of the United States. President Karsai said that an international presence would be necessary in his country for at least ten years after military withdrawal in 2014 to make security and economic progress irreversible. All true, no doubt, but -- without Pakistan's presence and unambiguous commitment and without clarity about the Taliban's place, if any, in Afghanistan's future -- just words, no more.

How many of the delegates at this week's meeting will be at another in ten year's time?

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