Last Updated: Mon Dec 05, 2011 00:53 am (KSA) 21:53 pm (GMT)

U.S.-Iran row overshadows Afghan conference

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (R) and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle meet  in Bonn before the conference on Afghanistan. (Reuters)
Afghan President Hamid Karzai (R) and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle meet in Bonn before the conference on Afghanistan. (Reuters)

A conference meant to show governments would unite to support Afghanistan was overshadowed before it started by a row between the United States and Iran after Tehran said on Sunday it had shot down a U.S. reconnaissance drone in its airspace.

The one-day international meeting on Monday had already been undermined by a boycott by Pakistan, embroiled in its own row with the United States over NATO air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on its border with Afghanistan on Nov. 26.

Iranian state television quoted a military source as saying Tehran had shot down a U.S. spy drone in eastern Iran.

“The Iranian military’s response to the American spy drone’s violation of our airspace will not be limited to Iran’s borders,” the military source said, without elaborating.

Iran has been accused by Western diplomats in the past of providing low-level support to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

Tehran, at loggerheads with the United States over its nuclear program, denies backing the Taliban.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi held talks in Bonn with his German counterpart on Sunday, but made no comment to reporters.

A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that “some elements are trying to overshadow the success of the Bonn conference on Afghanistan”. But spokesman Aimal Faizi stressed the drone incident had nothing to do with the conference.

The conference in Bonn, former capital of West Germany, takes place a decade after a first Bonn conference on Afghanistan, which ended in high hopes for its future.

But with concern about Afghanistan descending into civil war after most foreign combat troops leave in 2014, the mood was already sober even before the rows with Pakistan and Iran erupted.

Karzai appeals for funds

Karzai was expected to use the conference to appeal for international financial and military support for a decade after combat troops withdraw.

“Afghanistan will certainly need help for another 10 years, until around 2024... We will need training for our own troops. We will need equipment for the army and police, and help to set up state institutions,” Karzai told Der Spiegel weekly.

“If we lose this fight, we are threatened with a return to a situation like that before Sept. 11, 2001,” warned Karzai, referring to Taliban rule.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the Bonn talks would focus on three areas: security in light of the planned handover to Afghan forces, internal reconciliation and long-term support from world nations.

Karzai said his country needed a big financial commitment.

A World Bank study released last month said Afghanistan was likely to need around $7 billion a year from the international community to help pay its security and other bills long after foreign troops leave.

Karzai criticized Pakistan for its lack of help in achieving reconciliation. “Until now they have refused to help with talks with the Taliban leadership,” he told Der Spiegel, adding some people wanted the Taliban to remain an influence in Afghanistan.

“If that doesn’t change, there won’t be talks,” he said.

Hopes for an appearance by Taliban representatives at the Bonn talks and a breakthrough on reconciliation have faded.

But Germany’s Westerwelle said Pakistan still wanted stability in Afghanistan despite its boycott of the talks.

“I have the impression Pakistan not only wants to cooperate in Afghanistan’s stabilization process but that it is in its own interests,” he said in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio.

Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Britain, said Pakistan wanted peace in its neighboring country.

“(Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza) Gilani ... has reiterated that Pakistan strongly supports stability, peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and remains bound by international efforts for Afghanistan’s development,” he wrote in an email.

Earlier this week, the High Commissioner told Reuters the NATO air strike had pushed Pakistan’s government into a corner.

“The government and armed forces have been pushed to the wall,” he said. The air strike had outraged the whole nation, he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to Gilani on Saturday, offering condolences for the loss of life, and said the United States was committed to working together with Pakistan in future

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