The new President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, has received assurances of continuing international support at a conference in London.
But his country faces an uncertain future with US-led coalition forces leaving, a ferocious offensive by a reinvigorated Taliban and an economy that would collapse without massive injections of aid.
Western leaders, including David Cameron and the US Secretary of State John Kerry, had stressed, according to diplomatic sources, to the Afghan leadership that utmost effort should be put into establishing governance, carrying out reform, and, especially, tackling endemic corruption in return for funding. Mr Ghani insisted that Afghanistan has turned a corner. “History will not be repeated: we have overcome the past. We ask all our partners and neighbours to stand with us, because no country is a fortress,” he said.
Mr Kerry said that over the last four years, America has given Afghanistan $8bn (£5.1bn) in assistance and Congress will be asked to approve “extraordinary” levels of aid through to 2017. “We will continue clearly to invest in Afghanistan’s growth,” Mr Kerry said, adding that Mr Ghani had already taken steps to fight crimes such as money laundering.
Mr Cameron said: “While many of our troops have gone home, we will not walk away.” Securing aid and private investment will, he reminded the conference, require action to end corruption and show Afghan institutions are accountable.
It was a routine complaint in the US and Europe that Mr Ghani’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai, had done little to check the graft which permeated the ruling hierarchy. Western diplomats say that the coming of the power-sharing government of Mr Ghani and Dr Abdullah Abdullah, who holds the post of Chief Executive, offers a chance to reset a relationship that had become highly acrimonious towards the end of Mr Karzai’s presidency.
Mr Karzai, in turn, accused Western politicians of making allegations of corruption without proof and smearing him personally. He had also said that the West used his country as a battleground while doing little to address the fact that the insurgents were being fed and watered in Pakistan before infiltrating across the border.
Mr Ghani’s first bilateral visit abroad as the President of Afghanistan was to Pakistan. In an acknowledgment of the balance of power in Islamabad, he met the head of the country’s armed forces, General Raheel Sharif, as well as the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.
“We have overcome obstacles of 13 years in three days,” the Afghan President said.
However, within days of the visit, Kabul, and swathes of areas elsewhere, had come under sustained insurgent attacks that have now gone on for three weeks.
According to Afghan and Western critics of Pakistan, this could be a warning by the Pakistani military and the secret police, ISI, that more of this may follow if they are not involved in any future a peace settlement. Or it may be, in some ways, the sign of a more alarming situation – that they are losing their control of the Taliban.
While there is consensus that international aid will continue to be the lifeblood of Afghanistan, many relief organisations have begun to move out their staff. Mr Ghani and Dr Abdullah have agreed to around 12,000 international troops staying behind after the departure of the International Security Assistance Force, a deal Mr Karzai had failed to sign.
The American component of this force, Barack Obama said last week, will have a wider combat role than hitherto envisaged.
However, many Afghans remain sceptical of Western promises. They remember how, after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, another British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had also declared Britain would “not walk away” before the US and Britain did precisely that, moving resources on to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq and leaving a security vacuum for the Taliban to fill from across the Pakistani border.
Rashid Mohammed Nasruddin, an Afghan analyst, said: “The Americans, the British and others can easily get distracted again.
“We also know that without aid our economy will be in big trouble: will they [the international community] keep delivering when they face big economic difficulties themselves?
“But the biggest problem we face is that we have a neighbour who wants to keep Afghanistan in a state of instability, that is the prime cause of terrorism.”
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