Britain offers to host summit on Afghan future

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The Independent Online

Britain has offered to host part of an international conference on the future of Afghanistan, the Prime Minister's spokesman said today.

It is envisaged that the United Nations-led summit, announced by European Union leaders over the weekend, would take place in two phases before the end of the year.

Downing Street said it was hoped the first phase could be held in the Afghan capital Kabul, depending on security considerations, with the second phase to be held in an "international city".

A joint letter from Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been sent to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to advance plans for the conference.

In it, the leaders say the summit should set "new prospects and goals" for governance, rule of law and human rights in Afghanistan, as well as security and social and economic development.

And it adds: "We should agree on new benchmarks and timelines in order to formulate a joint framework for our transition phase in Afghanistan, i.e. to set our expectations of ownership and the clear view to hand over responsibility step-by-step to the Afghans, wherever possible."

Downing Street said the conference would probably be attended by foreign secretaries and that the agenda was still in the planning stages.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said Mr Brown "feels very strongly that the process of Afghanistan is really the most significant next step and that is something that is going to involve a lot of focus and thinking through how we resource build-up of both the Afghan army and the police and the governance.

"And there are other elements around making sure that corruption in Afghanistan is sorted out - there are lots of things that need to be done.

"I think setting some benchmarks and timelines around those aspects would be an important part of it."

Military involvement in Afghanistan should not be seen as just a UK-US initiative, the spokesman said, and the conference would aim to ensure commitment from Nato partners into the future.

He added: "This is a Nato initiative and therefore all the key players are involved and need to be encouraged to be involved and continue to be involved, and indeed this conference is really about that - making sure that people are bound in to what we want to do as a next step."

The letter says the recent presidential elections in Afghanistan marked an "important step" in the country's democratic history, giving its people a chance to reflect on the achievements of recent years and to express their "hopes and expectations" for the future.

For the international community it is also a "natural time to take stock of the progress we have achieved since the first presidential elections and to assess the challenges that still lie ahead", the leaders wrote.

They propose bringing together all those countries and institutions playing a "crucial role" in the reconstruction, development and stabilisation of the country, with the conference co-chaired by the UN and the Afghan government.

It should consider how to increase the speed, size and training of the Afghan security forces and "how best to create the proper local environment".

"Equally, the conference will present an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to stand by the Afghan people and to the common goal that Afghanistan can live in peace and security and will not become again a safe haven for terrorists," the letter adds.