More than 70 killed in wave of clashes; NATO pledges to support Afghanistan’s electoral process; Obama: US needs an exit strategy in Afghanistan; US to attend SCO conference on Afghanistan in Moscow
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  • Amidst growing alarm about Afghanistan’s mounting Taliban-led insurgency, a suicide bomber killed 11 people and wounded 28 in southern Afghanistan on March 16. More than 70 people lost their lives in the recent past, including 18 policemen and four Canadian soldiers on March 201. The US military on its part stated that Afghan and international troops have killed 30 ‘armed militants’ in Helmand province2. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, addressing a press conference in Kabul with President Hamid Karzai on March 18, pledged his organisation’s continued support for the conduct of the Afghan presidential elections slated for August 20, 20093.

    US President Barak Obama meanwhile has stressed that the United States needed an exit strategy in Afghanistan, even as the country expanded its military, diplomatic and economic efforts against a rising Taliban insurgency. Obama stated that the United States was redefining its mission in Afghanistan and “making sure that al-Qaeda cannot attack the US homeland and US interests and our allies4.” Earlier on March 19, the US State Department confirmed that the US will attend conference on Afghanistan being held in Moscow being organized by Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The Moscow conference is being seen as a prelude to an UN-organized international conference, to be co-hosted by the Afghan government and the Netherlands, scheduled to be held at the Hague on March 315.

    In other developments, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan Kai Eide pointed out that political consensus was vital for Afghanistan's stability, particularly ahead of the August presidential elections. He also appealed to the international community to cooperate with the Afghan authorities and civil society to help establish mechanisms for a free and fair election6.