"The goal of the conference is to produce a new narrative to assure our international partners and our public that we can have success by December and sustain momentum through July," Dr. Ashraf Ghani, the former finance minister who has led the government's preparations for the conference, said in an interview. The dates are key. President Obama has said he wants to review the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan by December and begin withdrawing troops by next July.
"Obama has spent enormous political capital here," Ghani continued. "So our goal is to produce political capital for him."
The conference will also allow foreign nations, for the first time, to endorse an Afghan government plan to persuade insurgents to lay down their arms. And it will reiterate a promise made by President Hamid Karzai at his inauguration last year: that Afghan forces should be able to take control of their country's security by 2014.
Some 11,000 police and soldiers are guarding Kabul for the conference, Lt. Gen. Abdul Rahman, the Kabul police chief, said in an interview. Entire sections of the city were already closed on Monday morning, and after Clinton's arrival, virtually all of Kabul was shut down. Local television and radio channels advised people to remain indoors.
Alongside American troops and American civilian investigators, Rahman has created a new police headquarters on top of a hill overlooking downtown Kabul. Afghan police sit next to Afghan soldiers and intelligence agents in a busy American-provided control center tent. The air buzzes with radio crackle. Officers bark out orders for soldiers and police officers to follow on the streets at the bottom of the hill.
On Sunday, a suicide bomber pierced the massive security bubble that Rahman and his men created, blowing himself up in a neighborhood about two miles from the police command center. American and Afghan officials believe he missed his target and exploded prematurely as he was bringing explosives to another location. Officials were forced to acknowledge he succeded in bringing explosives into a secure zone.
Insurgents have successfully targeted past major events in Kabul, and Rahman acknowledges they will try to attack again.
"Perhaps there will be another attack," he says. "But I can say this. The guarantee that Kabul will stay safe is that every officer defending it will give his life in order to save it."