This piece is part of a package of security and risk stories and factboxes before Jan 28 meetings in London to discuss Afghanistan and Yemen.
By William Maclean
LONDON (Reuters) - International gatherings on Afghanistan and Yemen in London next week will seek to galvanise efforts to stabilise both nations and stop al Qaeda from using either country as a base.
The more high-profile conference of the two, on Afghanistan on Jan. 28, is intended to chart a path for the country to take greater responsibility for its own security. Britain says the meeting also will look at how Afghanistan’s neighbours could work together to help stabilise it.
Attendees will include Afghan President Hamid Karzai, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s other foreign partners.
In preparation for the London conference Turkey will host a meeting of Afghanistan’s neighbours on Jan. 26. although it has not said which countries will attend.
The other London meeting, on Jan. 27, is on Yemen, which is seeking to crush al Qaeda after the group’s Yemen-based wing said it was behind a Dec. 25 bid to blow up a U.S. airliner.
The West and neighbouring oil giant Saudi Arabia fear the southern Arabian country could become a failed state allowing al Qaeda to use it as a launchpad for more international attacks.
Foreign ministers of Yemen’s main partners in the West and the Gulf are expected to try to mobilise international support for the country and identify what needs to be done by the government and by its allies to tackle its challenges.
Following are scenarios on what could be achieved.
Britain expects the conference to agree a set of conditions and a timetable for provinces and districts to be transferred to Afghan security control. The provinces would not be named lest Taliban insurgents were encouraged to destabilise those areas.
U.S. President Barack Obama is sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan as part of a strategy to speed up training of Afghan forces and press President Hamid Karzai to improve governance after his re-election in an August vote tainted by fraud.
Washington has said July 2011 will signal the start of a transfer of responsibility to Afghan forces, although the pace of any U.S. troop drawdown would depend on conditions at that time.
Karzai will present a plan aimed at pulling in lower-to- mid-level Taliban fighters by offering stipends, job training and education. Rich countries may agree at the conference to provide funding for this effort. Targets for expanding the numbers of Afghan security forces may be announced.
NATO plans to create a stronger civilian representative post to help lead international efforts in Afghanistan and its Kabul ambassador Mark Sedwill is a leading candidate, a Kabul-based diplomat said.
The new post would have power over aid funds and a mandate to coordinate development and reconstruction with the U.S.-led military effort. The appointment could be announced at or around the time of the conference.
Britain and other countries may announce new, non-military help for Afghanistan, although it is not intended to be a conference where countries pledge aid or more troops.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the conference will be an opportunity to encourage allies to raise commitments in critical areas especially training of the police and army.
The NATO Training Mission for Afghanistan has a shortfall of 1,600 trainers, and despite EU promises to increase the size of its police mission to 400 trainers the total staffing remains only 267, he said.
Delegates will seek to inject new momentum into Afghan reconciliation efforts after months of election uncertainty and the deadliest year in the long-running war against the Taliban.
Karzai will be expected to flesh out plans for his second five-year term after he won a tainted election last year.
After his swearing-in took place in November, Karzai promised to fight rampant corruption and to take control of his country’s security before his five-year term ends.
The conference aimed to “put some more flesh on the bones” of Karzai’s pledges while a follow-up conference in Kabul in the spring would be about implementing the plans, Sedwill has said.
British officials have said they are keen to persuade regional players to work together in achieving a stable Afghanistan. They have not yet specified how this would be done although media reports have spoken of some kind of regional council involving India and Pakistan.
Rivalry between the two countries is seen as a major obstacle to stabilising Afghanistan, where India has been expanding its presence following the fall of the Pakistan-backed Taliban in 2001.
The meeting is due to discuss how to counter radicalisation and coordinate aid to the Arab world’s poorest country.
In addition to al Qaeda attacks, Yemen also faces a Shi‘ite revolt in the north and separatist sentiment in the south.
Little is likely to be achieved without the tacit approval of neighbour and oil power Saudi Arabia, whose aid to Yemen may be larger than all other countries’ contributions combined.
Analyst Ginny Hill at Britain’s Chatham House think tank notes that despite the kingdom’s importance, Yemenis remain sensitive about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in their affairs.
The meeting will seek to improve international support for Yemen’s efforts to tackle these security problems and also advance political, economic and social reforms.
The Obama administration is considering proposals to sharply expand Pentagon powers to assist forces in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere battling al Qaeda and its affiliates, defence and congressional officials say.
The meeting is not intended as a pledging conference, and diplomats say the West wants to hold the Yemeni government accountable on economic reforms to ensure aid money is properly spent in a country where corruption is rampant.
Yemen has struggled to gain donors’ trust. A donors’ meeting in London in 2006 pledged about $5 billion but only a “very small percentage” has been disbursed, in part because of concerns about how the money would be spent, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told parliament this month.
Donors may hesitate to push hard for change in a country where internal security remains paramount. Chatham House’s Hill cites pessimists as saying President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power since 1990, might tolerate cosmetic measures but would not sanction reforms that would dismantle elite patronage networks.
Ivan Lewis, a British Foreign Office minister, said Yemen and Afghanistan faced different challenges. Yemen’s government was very fragile but it was at least still functioning, he said, drawing an unfavourable implicit comparison with Afghanistan.
Yemen’s allies had to act early to help it face economic and social challenges. That would lead to greater stability and minimise the threat to the international community, he said.
(Reporting by Myra Macdonald, Adrian Croft and Matt Falloon in London and Sue Pleming and Adam Entous in Washington)
Editing by Michael Roddy