Conference raises $21.4 bn for AfghanistanBy Siegfried Mortkowitz

June 13th, 2008 - 2:34 am ICT by IANS  

DPA
Paris, June 13 (DPA) Donors at a Paris conference pledged some $21.4 billion in aid to give a political and financial boost to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said. Of that total, the US pledged nearly half, or $10.2 billion, US First Lady Laura Bush said earlier Thursday.

“Afghanistan has reached a decisive moment for its future. We must not turn our back on this opportunity,” Bush told the representatives of 67 nations and 17 international organisations gathered at the conference.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher told journalists in Washington Wednesday that the pledge consisted of funds that had already been requested by the Bush administration from Congress.

“The pledge is two years of US money composed of 2008 and 2009 funds that have been recently appropriated or are under discussion on (Capitol Hill) right now,” Boucher said.

At the conference, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the money included $200 million for the elections scheduled to be held in Afghanistan in September next year.

The US commitment to the country was “for as long as it takes”, Rice said.

Earlier Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had appealed to the international community to provide long-term aid for his struggling country.

The most important needs were energy and agriculture, Karzai said, and also asked donor nations to improve the coordination of aid with his government in Kabul.

“The current development process that is marred by confusion and parallel structures undermines institution building,” he said.

The Afghan president also said that security remained the country’s most important challenge. He has put forward a five-year plan for economic and infrastructural reconstruction which will require $50 billion to realise, with $14 billion of that sum to be earmarked for security.

Thousands of people were killed last year in the conflict between government forces and the radical Islamic Taliban. Currently, some 47,000 foreign soldiers, most of them from NATO member countries, are stationed on Afghan territory, to support the 63,000-strong Afghan army.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy opened the conference by promising to more than double French aid to Afghanistan, to 107 million euros ($166 million) over three years, the money to be used on public health and agriculture.

The objective of the aid, Sarkozy said, was “to rid Afghanistan of terrorists and of drugs”.

Afghanistan currently produces about 90 percent of the world’s supply of opium. A large part of the profits from its sale goes directly to the Taliban.

“What is at stake is the future of an Islam of peace and an Islam of tolerance,” Sarkozy said. “This goes beyond the question of Afghanistan.”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Germany would contribute 420 million euros to 2010 to the Aghan reconstruction effort, and urged the government in Kabul to work more energetically against corruption.

However, human rights and international aid groups are sceptical about the ability of the Afghan authorities to properly manage the aid.

A World Bank report released earlier this week urged the authorities in Kabul to assume more accountability in the reconstruction of their country and its economy.

The report also requested more assurances that whatever money is pledged Thursday would be properly spent.

Despite the evident good intentions on all sides, many experts are sceptical that the conference will bring about the necessary changes.

Nick Grono, Vice President of the International Crisis Group, recently wrote in the British daily, The Guardian, “It’s spring again in Afghanistan.

“At this time of year, events follow a familiar pattern: the mountain snows melt, NATO gears up for expected Taliban attacks in the south, and experts tell us it is our ‘last chance’ to keep the country from falling into the abyss and propose new strategies to forestall this.”
DPA

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