A few months back, there were high hopes for Bonn. There was talk of the Taliban being represented as part of wider efforts to kick-start a peace process. There was the promise of fresh commitment to long-term support from major aid donor countries. Yet as the conference neared, expectations decreased. Fresh aid pledges were put in question by the corruption scandal at the Bank of Kabul and global economic crisis. Hopes for a peace process have been dampened in the wake of the assassination of ex-President Rabbani, who led the High Peace Council.
Yet over 100 representatives of the international community still gathered in Bonn, and a communiqué was duly issued by late afternoon. That document mentions election reform, upholding the Constitution, respect for women's rights, and strengthening the rule of law. That the international community and Government of Afghanistan have explicitly signed up to such priorities is certainly helpful for civil society groups that want to hold the decision-makers in Kabul and on the global stage to account. Yet in the absence of more specific commitments by different responsible institutions to act on these pledges within clear timelines, then many commentators fear that the rhetoric may not translate into reality.
Afghan Women's Network came to Bonn to launch a Declaration with a number of practical recommendations to aid donor countries, security forces, the Government of Afghanistan and other institutions with influence on the fate of Afghanistan and its women and girls. One important recommendation that remains neglected by the official communiqué is the question of how the Government and different international agencies monitor and respond to trends in the predicament of women and girls as international military forces withdraw. The nations that have deployed troops under NATO ISAF in Afghanistan have set a deadline of 2014 for withdrawing their forces from the country.
Women who were consulted through the AWN network across Afghanistan raised the concern that this process was too much defined in terms of international military priorities in security, and lacks any indicators for the Afghan population's security. AWN recommend that indicators should be developed to track changes in women's mobility and access to basic services, such as health and education, violence against women and their ability to participate in public life. Both the Government of Afghanistan and responsible international institutions should plan for ways in which they can mitigate and tackle any negative trends in these areas. "Sadly, the Bonn conference communiqué's section on security focuses mostly on military withdrawal, narcotics and terrorism. It makes no mention of such a people-centred approach to monitoring and responding to changes in security.
In the words of Samira Hamidi, the coordinator of AWN, at the launch of their Declaration: "General commitments to Afghanistan are all fine and well, but right now we need specific and clear commitments that different institutions will really implement."