Monday fifth of December marked the 10th anniversary of the first International Conference on Afghanistan, held in Bonn under the auspices of the UN to chart out a post-Taliban governing system for Afghanistan. Four leading Afghan groups, as well as Afghanistan's neighbours and the US and some of its European allies, participated.
Ten years on, at the same venue, emissaries from more than 90 countries and international organisations (represented by foreign ministers and organisational heads) are meeting again to reiterate their continued support for a sovereign, stable and responsible Afghanistan, one that will never again become a breeding ground for al-Qa'ida and its affiliates.
Against the backdrop of the transition of security responsibilities to the Afghan government and withdrawal of the NATO-International Security Assistance Force combat troops by the end of 2014, the present Bonn conference is expected to deliver three key messages.
First, the world will not abandon Afghanistan as it did in 1989 after the Soviet withdrawal. Second, after 2014, the international community will focus on civilian-led development, and training and sustaining the Afghan security forces. Third, an inclusive and comprehensive national reconciliation process, supported by the international community, is needed for a sustainable and durable peace.
The Afghan people indeed want to hear these messages loud and clear. No Afghan desires to go back to the dark ages of Taliban rule and complete isolation from the world. Afghanistan is in many ways a much better place than it was in 2001.
Now, 7.4 million children attend school, 39 per cent of whom are girls, as opposed to less than one million students, with no female enrolment, as was the case under the Taliban. The infant mortality has been cut by more than 50 per cent. This means 100 more children have a chance to live in each 1000 live births. Life expectancy for women and men has increased to 64 years compared with 45 years in 2001.
During the Taliban rule, to make an international phone call, an Afghan needed to travel to a neighbouring country. Today 16 million Afghans have mobile and land-based telephones.
There are more schools and asphalt roads in Afghanistan today than at any time in the past. The existence of a vibrant, free media with 25 television channels and more than one hundred FM radio stations ensures that Afghans stay connected to the world. The media is also playing a significant role in the protection of human rights in general, and women's rights in particular, by questioning the government and galvanising public support for victims of human rights abuses.
The Afghan people recognise that these achievements have been realised with great sacrifices on their part and that of their international partners, including Australians, who have played a major role in our historic achievements in the past 10 years.
While ready to take over security responsibilities for their country and eager to consolidate the achievements of the decade, Afghans expect the conference to secure them the international community's strategic commitment to Afghanistan for at least another decade beyond 2014.
Nasir A. Andisha is ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Australia.