Fri, Jun 13, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Afghanistan conference raises cash, sets strategy

AGENCIES , PARIS

Ministers will pledge funds for Afghanistan and review their development strategy for the fragile Central Asian state at a donors conference which got underway in Paris yesterday.

More than six years after US-led forces ousted the Taliban regime that sheltered al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, corruption is rife, the drug trade is thriving and attacks occur daily in Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest nations.

Afghanistan’s government is asking the ministers and other delegates from 67 countries to fund a US$50 billion five-year development plan, for which donors will demand that Kabul do more to fight graft which has deterred investment.

“It is the duty of all democrats to help you,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy told his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai in his opening speech, adding that France would “maintain its effort in Afghanistan as long as necessary.”

More than 15 international organizations also took part in the conference opened by Sarkozy, Karzai and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Donors are not expected to pledge a full US$50 billion but the conference is intended to be a show of support for Afghanistan after a NATO summit in April examined military strategy for the more than 50,000 foreign troops stationed there.

Last year alone, an insurgency by a rejuvenated Taliban accounted for some 6,000 deaths.

The US will pledge about US$10 billion over around two years, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said as she flew to the Paris meeting. The World Bank’s envoy said it would provide around US$1.1 billion over five years and a foreign ministry spokesman said Japan would offer an extra US$550 million.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Britain would provide about £600 million (US$1.17 billion) in reconstruction aid to Afghanistan through 2012 and 2013.

A US official said on Tuesday he expected total pledges of more than US$15 billion.

Sarkozy said France would more than double its aid, focusing on health and agriculture, but did not give any figures.

Aid agencies in Afghanistan say France has spent around US$80 million in aid since 2001, with a further US$29.5 million pledged but not disbursed.

US first lady Laura Bush says world donors must not turn their backs on Afghanistan. She says Afghanistan has reached “a decisive moment for its future.”

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