US Secretary of State John Kerry embraces Afghanistan’s President Mohamed Ashraf Ghani while Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah looks on during a Nato foreign ministers at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani have heralded a new chapter in relations, as the military alliance prepared for its new support role in Afghanistan from 2015, after 13 years of military intervention.
“Compelled by tragedy, and cemented by mutual sacrifice, the partnership between Afghanistan and Nato is entering a new phase,” Ghani told the foreign ministers of countries participating in the Resolute Support Mission from January 1.
On that date, Afghan forces are to take over the full security responsibility for the country, while Nato’s role will be reduced to a training, assistance and advisory capacity. “Our forces are ready to assume their patriotic duty,” Ghani said.
Concerns are rife, however, over the ability of Afghan government forces to handle the continued security threat posed by Taliban fighters, who have increased their attacks ahead of the December 31 handover.
Ghani spoke of the “heinous acts of senseless terror” routinely taking place in his country.
“To hold the mangled body of a child from a volleyball field, or speak to the father of a young girl blown to pieces on her way to college, is to experience the depth of the fall from values of our tolerant Islamic civilisation,” he said.
Last month, a suicide attacker killed more than 50 people at a local volleyball game in eastern Afghanistan.
Stoltenberg has expressed confidence, however, in the abilities of Afghanistan’s “strong, capable, well-trained” security forces, to tackle the challenges ahead.
The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force mission, currently comprising Nato’s 28 allies and 20 partner countries, ends on December 31. Some 12,500 soldiers will stay on under the new mission.
“From January 1 it will be a different Afghanistan,” said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, expressing hope that the country can “restart on the right foot” under Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who struck a power-sharing deal after contested elections earlier this year.
Nato is entering into “a new era in which we want to help stabilise Afghanistan further, to put the country in a position where it can take on more responsibility,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
One of the key sticking points for Resolute Support had been Afghan approval of the legal provisions for Nato to stay on in the country - a text that Ghani ratified hours before his visit to Brussels.
Tuesday’s talks were the first meeting of Nato ministers since Stoltenberg took office on October 1. They also focused on Ukraine and efforts by Nato to bolster its readiness in case of future threats, following Russian actions in Ukraine this year.
During his visit to Brussels, Ghani also held talks with European Parliament President Martin Schulz and the new president of the European Union, Donald Tusk.
Tusk welcomed measures already initiated by the new Afghan government, stressing the importance of carrying out electoral reform; fighting corruption; and strengthening the rule of law and human rights, for women in particular.
“It is vital to maintain the momentum,” Tusk said.
From Brussels, Ghani and Abdullah will travel to Britain where they will present their government’s reform plans to the London Conference on Afghanistan today, in return for international support pledges.
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