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World debates price of peace in Afghanistan

Martin Meissner / AP

German chancellor Angela Merkel and Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai, center, pose with the foreign ministers and delegation members for a group photo at the international Afghanistan conference in Bonn, Germany, Monday.

World leaders were meeting in Germany Monday in the hope of creating a "peaceful Afghanistan that will never again become a safe haven for international terrorism," according to German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

But, according to a report by the news service Bloomberg, this could mean a commitment to the country lasting nearly 20 years.

The conference in Bonn is focused on the transfer of security responsibilities, long-term prospects for international aid and, ten years after U.S.-backed forces toppled the Taliban, a possible political settlement with the insurgent group. 

Afghanistan is planning to ask the world for economic aid to last until 2025 and for help paying for the country's security forces until 2030, Bloomberg said.

It added that the World Bank has estimated that Afghanistan will need about $70 billion over the next 10 years and that unless the country's budget gap was met "the good work of the past ten years will come undone."

"I'm hopeful but dubious," Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center in Washington, told Bloomberg about Afghanistan's future prospects. "Even if Pakistan were fully participating, I think the idea of a regional cooperation toward a settlement is going to be very difficult."

Afghanistan's neighbor Pakistan is a central player in regional efforts to improve trade and strengthen historically weak economies in what is a strategically important part of the world. But its boycott has cast a pall over the session, because it points out that nation's influence in Afghanistan and its ability to play the spoiler.

U.S.-Pakistan relations, a new 'all-time low'?

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged ongoing support for Afghanistan, telling the conference that "the United States is prepared to stand with the Afghan people for the long haul.

The international community has "much to lose if the country again becomes a source of terrorism and instability," she added.
In addition to a financial cost, there were fears that achieving peace in the war-torn country could come at the cost of human rights.
Leading activist Selay Ghaffar told The Guardian newspaper that she is worried that improvements in women's rights could be short-lived if the international community goes into closed-door peace talks with insurgent groups such as the Taliban and Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government.

"The biggest fear we have right now is reconcilliation with the Taliban," Ghaffar told the U.K. paper. "Will women play a role in these discussions? Will women's rights be part of the negotiations?"

The lack of progress toward a political settlement with the Taliban is a major disappointment for the United States, which sees a deal as the key to ending the war. But the prospect of some accommodation with the hardline movement that once forbade Afghan girls to go to school is a bitter pill for many of the leaders Clinton addressed Monday.
"Reconciliation holds promise, but it cannot be at the cost of the gains you have suffered for," Clinton said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.