Today is the start of an important week for the people in Afghanistan. While foreign ministers and diplomats are arriving in The Hague to attend an international conference to discuss the future of Afghanistan, many Afghan civilians feel vulnerable and say that their situation has worsened over the past years. It seems that at the moment it is the interests of foreign states that are at the forefront but this conference won’t achieve much unless it puts the future of the Afghans at the center of its agenda.
It is now widely accepted that there is no military solution to the problems facing Afghanistan, and many have called for a change in the strategy of the international community. Afghanistan is at a critical juncture as it faces presidential and provincial elections while the lives and livelihoods of millions of Afghans and the future stability of the country and the wider region are at stake.
At the time of the international intervention in 2001, Afghanistan had been through more than two decades of conflict and upheaval which had devastated its institutions and infrastructure. Yet the international community has failed to provide sufficient resources for the country’s reconstruction, and a great deal of foreign assistance has been wasteful and disorganized. The security situation has got steadily worse, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Afghan civilians and depriving many in the south and south-east of access to essential services, such as healthcare and education. Nearly one third of the population is food insecure, and the health of over a million young children and half a million women is at serious risk due to malnutrition.
In 2006 after the fall of the Taliban, the international community and the Afghan government signed the Afghanistan Compact in which they promised to rebuild the country, promote development and overcome the legacy of conflict. This pledge must not be forgotten.
In a few hours we will be standing on the beach of Scheveningen, not far from the venue of the Afghanistan conference. The air will be filled with kites, a symbol of freedom and joy for many Afghans. Together with Afghan communities and representatives we will send a message to all ministers and diplomats attending the conference. We will remind them that Afghan civilians should be at the center of tomorrow’s debate and that they should remember that Afghanistan is home to millions of ordinary citizens.
Now is the time for the international community to put the people of Afghanistan first.