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By Safa Haeri
Posted Thursday, April 1, 2004

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"Afghanistan, in seven to 10 years, should be able to stand on its own feet, feed itself, and have its own defence" Karzai said


BERLIN First of April (IPS) International donors pledged a total of 8.2 billion US Dollars for the war-shattered Afghanistan against Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s request for $27.5 billions in funding over seven years to help stopping his country becoming "a haven for drugs and terrorism".

"This is 100 percent of our target", Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai told a news conference at a meeting of over 64 donor nations and specialized organizations from the United Nations in Berlin that promised to provide 4.4 billons staring this year and the rest until 2007.

Karzai, in a closing speech, thanked the donors and expressed satisfaction with the results of the two-days conference and reiterated that his country could be self-reliant and peaceful within a decade, if the international community remains committed to funding its reconstruction after decades of war.

"Afghanistan, in seven to 10 years, should be able to stand on its own feet, feed itself, and have its own defence" Karzai said, adding however that the country's two major problems remain "private militia forces" headed by regional strongmen and drug cultivation and trafficking.

"The first challenge is the presence of private militia forces that not only are a challenge to security and stability in Afghanistan, but they also are a cause of drug cultivation", he told the 60 participants at the meeting.

Despite the presence of some 13.000 soldiers and officers from a number of nations plus hundreds of Special Forces fighting against both drug traffickers and the remnants of the former Taleban regime and Al-Qa’eda network, large parts of the mountainous country are controlled by warlords, "financed" by the cultivations and traffic of drugs.

The United Nations warned that Afghanistan could revert to a "narco state" if more resources aren't devoted to stopping the production and cultivation of opium, the raw ingredient of heroin.

Afghanistan is already the world's leading producer of opium poppies, and the UN says that terrorists are increasingly using the drug trade to fund their activities.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the host o the two-days meeting, urged the world to "stress its commitment to a secure, free and democratic Afghanistan". "It is important that the international community today stress its commitment to a secure, free and democratic Afghanistan", he said in an indirect comparison of the situation in the Central Asian nation with that of Iraq, where the United States went to war almost alone.

In a speech opening the conference, Schroeder said, "much has been achieved. The security situation in the country has improved, but it is not yet what we would like it to be in some parts of the country. The lesson from Afghanistan is that to manage such kind of crisis, the international community must remain united under the auspices of the United Nations and transfer powers and sovereignty to the authorities the soonest possible".

Germany would provide 320 million euros ($391 million) for Afghanistan over the next four years, in addition to 320 million euros of reconstruction aid it promised at a conference in Tokyo two years ago.

The pledge toward reconstruction and budget costs for the financial year 2004-2005 far outweighed the $4.5 billion over five years period pledged at a 2002 donors' conference in Tokyo, but is dwarfed by an estimated annual bill of $12 billion for the West's military operations in Afghanistan.

Afghan leaders and the United Nations estimate the country needs almost 28 billion dollars over the next seven years to meet its barest needs.

Ghani stressed the aid would cut the West's military bill by contributing to Afghanistan's stability.

"We are not asking for charity, we are asking for investment," he told a news conference earlier. "When we are asking for assistance, it is to actually save you money, not to make further claims on your constrained budgets".

Ghani said the international community had made a further promise of $8.2 billion over the next three years, short of Kabul's hoped-for $11.9 billion, but with the potential to rise.

"When pledges were made in Tokyo at least half ... were for humanitarian purposes", Ghani said. "The key focus of the current pledges is now on reconstruction, good governance and the political process. This marks a very important change".

US Secretary of State Colin Powell praised Afghanistan's reconstruction efforts but warned delegates at an international conference here that the country still needed "significant resources".

"To give traction and momentum to the transition for the upcoming financial year in particular, it is important that we and the international community channel significant resources toward the strengthening of Afghanistan's institutions of governance", he said in a speech to the conference.

It is the largest conference of its kind since the meeting of donor countries in Tokyo in 2002, which raised 4.5 billion dollars.

While Karzai said Afghanistan has "come a long way'' since the Taleban were ousted from power in December 2001, serious obstacles remain. His government was forced to postpone presidential and parliamentary elections to September from June, citing difficulties registering voters and continuing insecurity in some regions.

Warlords control much of the country and drug production - estimated at $2.3bn in 2003 by the United Nations- is rising.

According to the BBC's Andrew North, an opium farmer may be earning 10 times as much as the government soldier or policeman whose job it is to enforce the law against growing the crop.

On the sidelines of the meeting, Afghanistan and neighbouring nations reached an agreement to collectively fight drug smuggling, but on the other hand officials from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation refused to pledge any firm commitment for peacekeeping, informed sources told Iran Press Service.

However, the "Berlin Declaration" made public at the end of the meeting noted a "commitment" by NATO to expand the mission of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) around Kabul by establishing five additional Provincial Reconstruction Teams by this summer

The Berlin conference follows a first donor conference held in Japan in 2002 and will consider a report submitted by the Afghan government and institutions like the World Bank.

The World Bank's country director for Afghanistan, Alastair McKechnie, has defended the amount of development aid being sought by Kabul, putting the total cost of two decades of war at about 240 billions US Dollars.

International non-government organisations and experts have warned that if Afghanistan does not get the money it needs for its war-ravaged reconstruction, the consequences would be "disastrous".

They also complained that "a good amount" of the money the international community and donors give Afghanistan goes to their own expenses, including in salaries for their personnel. ENDS AFQANESTAN DONORS 1404



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