Paris: Rich donors from around the world will untie their purse strings in the hope of making Afghanistan a less hungry place while also loosening the grip of Taliban militants and the lucrative drug trade in the country.
The United States set the stage for this fundraising conference in Paris and upped the pressure on 80 countries and donor organizations that are expected to attend. $10 billion in pledges were announced on 11June.
This would go a long way toward the $15 billion to $20 billion which the Afghan government is hoping to secure at the conference. Afghan President Hamid Karzai will present a development plan saying his country needs $50 billion over the next five years to boost an economy shattered by a quarter century of war.
Donors agree the needs are urgent and enormous
Most Afghans still live in mud-brick homes without proper sanitation and 80% have no electricity, despite $15 billion in international aid since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001. Life expectancy remains under 50 years, and food shortages over the past year have pushed many Afghans to the brink.
The Taliban still recruit in desperately poor rural areas, and their insurgency continues to claim lives more than six years after U.S.led troops invaded in the wake of the 11September attacks. Some 65,000 foreign soldiers patrol the country.
Drugs are a key part of the economy. The world’s top opium producer was also the site of what U.S. officials called the world’s biggest drug busts: seizure of 260 tonnes of hashish hidden in 6-foot-deep trenches in southern Afghanistan, worth more than $400 million.
Deterrents for donors
Corruption is endemic, and the World Bank says it’s crippling the legitimacy of Karzai’s government. Graft and thievery are bleeding badly needed aid dollars and influencing what gets built and where.
“If donors offer more of the same and ignore the need for systemic reform, including a commitment to take on warlords and address impunity, the situation in Afghanistan is likely to deteriorate,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
Security questions loom over every aid project. Karzai’s Western-backed administration has only a fragile grip on much of the country. “It is a mistake to think of security and reconstruction as somehow different parts of the problem,” U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said. “They are actually part of the solution together. Without one or the other you’re not going to solve the problems of Afghanistan.”
The Bush administration wants to spend about $10 billion for development and related aid to Afghanistan over two years, an amount roughly on par with recent U.S. donations, Rice said. The money is a mix of what Congress has already approved and what the administration is still seeking.
Germany has pledged $653 million to support reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan through 2010. Norway’s civilian aid to Afghanistan will remain at $145 million a year for the next five years.
U.S. and French diplomats said they would be content if the contributions reach the levels of the London donors conference in 2006, which gathered pledges of $10.5 billion.
The United States is the single largest donor to Afghanistan, not counting the cost of the ongoing war against insurgents.That war is unlikely to end soon: The Afghan government, in its development strategy to be unveiled Thursday, envisions peace by 2020.