Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Afghanistan donors demand better use of their money

AP AND DPA , PARIS AND TOKYO

An Afghan boy begs for alms on the streets of Kabul on Thursday. World donors sought to bolster Afghanistan's fragile leadership on Thursday with pledges of more than US$21 billion in aid.

PHOTO: AP

Donors ranging from the US to the World Bank pledged more than US$21 billion for Afghanistan — and this time they want their money spent better in a desperately poor country where the president is barely in charge.

Benefactors that have already poured billions into Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban nearly seven years ago said on Thursday they want greater coordination of the handouts and larger involvement by Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration.

In opening their pockets yet again, many donors complained about endemic corruption that has bled past donations in a nation where illegal drugs are the mainstay of a broken economy.

“Corruption threatens to ruin everything so many have worked so hard to build,” Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller told delegates from about 80 nations and international organizations.

Afghan officials detailed a five-year plan that envisions a national government better able to manage its affairs and be accountable for the results, but Afghanistan and its many patrons all recognize it is a long way from true financial or security independence.

“We are all in favor of leaving as soon as possible from Afghanistan,” said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who organized the conference. “Will it take five years? Ten years? I don’t know.”

The Afghan government envisions peace by 2020.

The continued threat from insurgents and the consequences of fighting them were spotlighted this week when a US air strike along Afghanistan’s lawless border with Pakistan killed 11 Pakistani soldiers under disputed circumstances.

The deaths put the US on the defensive about its priorities and tactics just as first lady Laura Bush was trying to draw attention to small-scale projects in Afghanistan that increase the number of children in school, promote investment and the like.

“Afghanistan has reached a decisive moment for its future. We must not turn our back on this opportunity,” Bush said.

She made a surprise visit to Afghanistan this week.

Afghanistan’s strategic place at the crossroads of the fight against global terrorism is a large reason that the world is willing to donate heavily, but even a US$10.2 billion pledge from the US is not enough to make much of a dent in Afghanistan’s many problems.

The US gift over two years was the single largest pledge on Thursday. The US also has the overwhelmingly largest number of foreign troops in Afghanistan, many of them battling persistent Taliban fighters who retreated but never went away.

The pledged money is a mix of what Congress already has approved for this year and next, and about US$7 billion more sought by the Bush administration before it leaves office, but which Congress has not approved.

Other major donors included the UK, US$1.2 billion; the Asian Development Bank, US$1.3 billion; and the World Bank, US$1.1 billion.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government decided yesterday to extend the nation’s Self-Defense Forces’ airlift missions in Iraq and refueling operations in the Indian Ocean.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s Cabinet decided to continue Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force’s airlifting of troops and supplies for the UN between Iraq and Kuwait until July next year.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said the government saw “much need for the UN multinational forces to engage in activities” in Iraq, though “the situation is improving gradually.”

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