A global conference aimed at mapping out the future of war-torn Afghanistan after Western troops depart opened in Istanbul on Wednesday.
Representatives from 20 countries are joining aid agency members at the Istanbul talks almost 10 years after the Taliban were driven out of power in Kabul, as Washington took action designed to ensure that a jailed commander of the Haqqani network never benefits from funds under American jurisdiction.
The summit is intended to chart the way ahead for Afghanistan, with the U.S.-led Nato mission already locked into troop draw-downs that are scheduled to bring all foreign combat troops home by 2014.
Despite the billions of dollars poured into the country since coalition forces ousted the Taliban from power in mid-November 2001, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Half of its 30 million population lives below the poverty line, according to the United Nations.
The Taliban’s resilience a decade after being driven from overall control of the country was again underscored last week, when some of its members killed at least 17 people in a car bomb attack on a Nato convoy in Kabul.
The gathering takes place a day after a trilateral summit hosted by Turkish President Abdullah Gul; Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, and the president of Pakistan, Asif Zardari, travelled to Istanbul in a bid to ease tensions and promote cooperation between the two neighbors.
Tuesday’s talks saw Afghanistan and Pakistan agree to cooperate with an investigation into the murder of former Afghan leader and peace negotiator Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Kabul had accused Islamabad of refusing to cooperate in the probe into the murder, which Afghan authorities say was planned in Pakistan and committed by a Pakistani suicide bomber.
“We were hurt badly by the assassination of Rabbani,” said Karzai after the closed-door talks. “I hope this cooperation will produce results.”
Zardari said: “We want to be a responsible partner to bring peace to the region.”
Pakistan was the Taliban’s chief diplomatic backer when it was in power and is regularly accused by both Kabul and Washington of helping destabilize its northern neighbor.
Absent from Wednesday’s conference will be U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who cancelled her visit to Istanbul after her 92-year-old mother died. Her deputy, William Burns, will take her place, a spokeswoman said.
The U.S. provides more than two-thirds of a total of 140,000 foreign troops currently in Afghanistan.
As well as the United States, the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – Britain, China, France and Russia – will take part in the conference.
But one notable absentee is Iran, which has a long border with western Afghanistan.
Action against Haqqani network
Meanwhile, the United States took action Tuesday aimed at ensuring that a jailed commander of the militant Haqqani network or his associates never benefit from funds under American jurisdiction.
The State Department blacklisted commander Mali Khan under an executive order signed by President George W. Bush in 2001 in a bid to block funds to suspected terrorists, after a similar move in August against commander Sangeen Zadran.
“All property subject to U.S. jurisdiction in which Mali Khan has any interest is blocked and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with him,” the State Department said, according to AFP.
“This action will help stem the flow of financial and other assistance to the Haqqani network,” a Pakistan-based militant group blamed for high-profile attacks on U.S. and Afghan targets, the State Department said.
It said Mali Khan was detained in Afghanistan in a late-September raid by Afghan and coalition forces, but State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the sanctions seek to freeze transactions involving him or his associates.
“We want to make sure that ... nobody can do business with anybody who has access to his stuff, and/or ... if he ever came to a time when he was out of custody, that he shouldn’t have any illusions about being able to do business,” she told reporters.
Affiliated with the Taliban, the Haqqani network is considered the most dangerous enemy of U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan.
It was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani and is run by his son, Sirajuddin, both of whom are adesignated “global terrorists” by Washington.
U.S. officials have accused the Haqqani network of staging the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and a truck bombing on a NATO outpost, both in September, and a June attack on Kabul's InterContinental hotel.