From the Afghanistan: The London Conference website:

What was agreed?
The more than 70 countries and international organisations present agreed today with the GoA:

* To develop a plan for phased transition to Afghan security lead province by province to begin, provided conditions are met, by late 2010/early 2011.

* Targets for significant increases in the Afghan Army and Police Force supported by the international community: 171,000 Afghan Army and 134,000 Afghan Police by the end of 2011, taking total security force numbers to over 300,000.

* Confirmation of a significant increase in international forces to support the training of Afghan forces. In total, the US have increased levels by 30,000 and the rest of the international community by 9,000, including the German contribution taking total force levels to around 135,000.

* Measures to tackle corruption, including the establishment of an independent Office of High Oversight and an independent Monitoring and Evaluation Mission.

* Better coordinated development assistance to be increasingly channelled through the GoA, supported by reforms to structures and budgets.

* A civilian surge to match the military surge, including new civilian leadership of the international community’s programmes, with the appointment of Mark Sedwill, previously British Ambassador to Afghanistan, as NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative, a new UN representative plus more civilians on the ground to support governance and economic development.

* Enhanced sub-national government to improve delivery of basic services to all Afghans.

* Support for the GoA’s national Peace and Reintegration Programme, including financial support for a Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund, to offer economic alternatives to those who renounce violence, cut links to terrorism and agree to work within the democratic process.

* Support for increased regional co-operation to combat terrorism, violent extremism and the drugs trade, to increase trade and cultural exchange and to create conducive conditions for the return of Afghan refugees.

Together, these measures will ensure we meet the Prime Minister’s call to ‘match the increase in military forces with an increased political momentum, focus the international community on a clear set of priorities across the 43-nation coalition and marshal the maximum international effort to help the Afghan government deliver’.

Noble words indeed! Now, will that translate into tangible results…?

Before the ink has even dried…

Karzai wants troops to stay 10 years more

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has warned that foreign troops must stay in his country for another decade, as world powers agreed on an exit map including a plan to persuade Taleban fighters to disarm in exchange for jobs and homes…

…"With regard to training and equipping the Afghan security forces, five to 10 years will be enough," Karzai said. "With regard to sustaining them until Afghanistan is financially able to provide for our forces, the time will be extended to 10 to 15 years."

I’m sure PM Brown and Obama are thrilled with that prospect…

However, some glimmers of hope are emerging…

Pakistan seeks role as mediator in possible Taliban-Afghanistan peace talks

… Pakistani officials have taken a sudden interest in promoting peace in Afghanistan, a change analysts attribute to a combination of self-interest and fear. Pakistan, they say, hopes a power-sharing arrangement in Kabul that includes the Taliban would be friendlier to its interests; and it worries that if the Afghan conflict drags on, its domestic extremist problem will spin out of control.

But analysts said any overt mediation role by the Pakistani government could backfire for several reasons, including deep mistrust among Afghan leaders, unpredictable reactions by Pakistani militants, Taliban resentment of pressure from its former backers and unrealistic Pakistani expectations of Western gratitude.

"The crisis in Pakistan has created a big change in its thinking. The country is suffering enormously from the Pakistani Taliban, and this may be a way to get off the hook," said Ahmed Rashid, a Lahore-based expert on the Taliban and on Afghanistan-Pakistan relations. "Pakistan still exerts some influence on the Afghan Taliban, but Kabul will be extremely wary of Pakistani bias. It is a very tricky situation."

…"What this is really about is whether the Pakistanis want to be part of the problem or part of the solution," said one American diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Turkey this week, said there is an urgent need for peace talks. Echoing Karzai’s comments about the Taliban being "sons of the soil," Zardari said that if insurgents are "reconcilable and want to give up their way of life, a democracy always welcomes them back."

…"Pakistan’s role could be crucial, but it will not do this for free. It will only facilitate these talks to protect its national interests," Rashid said. "It will demand its pound of flesh."

Another visible ray of hope…

Important things changed in London nonetheless. Karzai’s prominent appeal to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, presumably agreed in advance, for guidance and assistance for the new peace and reintegration programme was a sharp move. Potential Saudi leverage over the militants, going back to the Soviet invasion, is unmatched.

As recent events in Yemen show, the old Saudi posture of standing back, cashing the west’s oil receipts, and indulging Wahhabi fantasies of an untrammelled, conservative Islam is no longer affordable. The London message to all parties – the need to commit – seems to have been heard at last.

As Karzai put it…

In his address, Mr Karzai reiterated a long-standing call for King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to "kindly play a role to guide peace and assist the process".

Those are two giant steps in the right direction, if the Saudis and Pakistanis actually follow through…

Now, Karzai’s own significant proposals for fighting the pandemic corruption could go a long ways…

Conference Participants welcomed the Government of Afghanistan’s whole-of-government approach to fighting corruption, and its ongoing work to mount a concerted effort to tackle the key drivers of corruption, through development of clear and objective benchmarks and implementation plans, in advance of the Kabul Conference, including but not limited to:

* empowering an independent High Office of Oversight to investigate and sanction corrupt officials, and lead the fight against corruption, through decree within one month;

* during 2010, establishing a statutory basis for related anti-corruption bodies, including the Major Crimes Task Force and the Anti-Corruption Tribunal, guaranteeing their long-term independence;

* enhancing the effectiveness of the senior civil service appointments and vetting process and revising the civil service code. This will include, by the time of the Kabul Conference, identifying the top level civil service appointments;

* the intention of the President to issue a decree prohibiting close relatives of Ministers, Ministerial advisers, Members of Parliament, Governors and some Deputy Ministers from serving in customs and revenue collection departments throughout government;

* as a priority during 2010, adopting comprehensive legislation agenda to make Afghan laws consistent with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, including the Anti-Corruption Penal Code, to expand provisions related to asset declaration; and

* inviting Afghan and other eminent experts to participate in an independent Ad Hoc Monitoring and Evaluation Mission which will make its first monitoring visit to Afghanistan within three months, develop clear and objective benchmarks for progress and prepare periodic reports on national and international activity for the Afghan President, Parliament and people, as well as the international community.

The UN has replaced the UN Rep…

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has named a long-serving UN diplomat, Staffan de Mistura, as his new representative in Afghanistan.

Mr De Mistura, who holds Swedish and Italian nationalities, will replace the outgoing head of the UN mission in Kabul, Kai Eide, when he steps down in March.

Mr Eide was accused by a colleague of being too close to President Karzai and his government, and of downplaying fraud during presidential elections last year. Mr Eide always denied the allegations.

Now, speaking of Mr. Eide and talking to the Taliban…

The official, speaking as leaders and ministers from 60 nations convened in London to discuss Afghanistan, told Reuters members of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura had met U.N. Special Representative Kai Eide on January 8 in Dubai.

"They requested a meeting to talk about talks. They want protection, to be able to come out in public. They don’t want to vanish into places like Bagram," the official said, referring to a detention center at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

Do you suppose if we stopped our misbegotten ‘secret’ detention sites we’d win them over…?

The most succinct synopsis I’ve seen…

The regional approach, coupled with the emphasis on Afghan self-reliance in security matters, a progressive reconciliation and reintegration process, and ongoing financial, developmental and institutional assistance, is the way Britain and the US hope finally, and in the not too distant future, to extract their legions. Like past empires, they have learned the hard way that nobody wins in Afghanistan. London confirmed the best they now hope for is an orderly and honourable retreat, scattering alms as they leave…

…Most tendentious of all is the ­dazzling assumption, propagated by Brown today and Barack Obama in his state of the union address, that the Afghan troop surge will work. Nothing in the past two years, a time of significant Taliban advances, justifies any such unqualified conclusion. It’s a live hope, not a dead certainty. Because Afghanistan is different, there can be absolutely no guarantee of success. Who’s saying that? General David Petraeus, architect of the original Iraq surge, that’s who. And he should know.

I think the jury is still out on Petraeus and McChrystal’s Afghan strategy…

We shall see…!

Here’s another lengthy overview…

Pass the popcorn…!