Daniel Korski

Cancel the London Afghanistan Conference

Cancel the London Afghanistan Conference
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In a few weeks time, a slew of foreign ministers will descend on London to attend a conference on Afghanistan. No.10 will use the event to sell Gordon Brown as a statesman, confidently dealing with the nation’s threats. The Conservatives, in turn, will probably try to score the usual points about Britain’s failure, alongside its NATO allies, to make any in-roads in the fight against the Taliban. Together with Tony Blair’s evidence to the Iraq Inquiry, the conference may create one of the few moments in the drawn-out election campaign when the three party leaders stop talking about the NHS and focus on national security issues instead.

Too bad, then, that the conference will be a waste of time and should be cancelled forthwith – not least to save the taxpayers the million pound sum the event will cost. Dreamt up by Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel, the event was meant to represent a moment of post-election reckoning, a time when the international community held President Karzai to a number of benchmarks – on anti-corruption, development, security hand-over etc. Unfortunately, it looks like the wily Karzai has outmanoeuvred the international coalition once more.

By getting most of his Cabinet nominees rejected by Parliament, Karzai can now safely arrive in London, tell everyone that he would love to cooperate but without a ministerial team there is no point in setting any benchmarks. As the Afghan expert Thomas Rutting notes, “heads of state and government of the donor countries will sit around that large table and will not have anything to measure.” In truth, Karzai has secured all the ministerial posts he needs to govern – defence, finance, interior and agriculture. The rest are just for show. But it will not look that way – and the event will do little.

Perhaps for this reason, but certainly because of the continuing storm over the deadly air strike near Kunduz (which led to the resignation of a German minister and the dismissal of a top general), Merkel seems lukewarm on the London event. Her foreign minister even threatened to boycott the London conference if it focuses exclusively on troop numbers.

The best strategy would be to postpone the event until later in the year, when President Karzai will have no excuse to avoid benchmarking his performance, and the first batch of US troops, as part of the surge, has begun arriving.