Karzai appeals for aid at Afghanistan conference


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

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The most important needs were energy and agriculture, he told the representatives of 67 nations and 17 international organisations gathered at a conference in Paris to give his government a political and financial boost.

Karzai also asked donor nations to improve the coordination of aid with his government in Kabul. “Parallel structures exist currently that hinder the establishment of Afghan institutions,” 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.

The US government is hoping that the conference will raise at least $15 billion for Kabul, of which Washington was expected to donate $10 billion.

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 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 for the reconstruction work, and urged the government in Kabul to work more energetically against corruption.

The list of participants at the conference includes UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, US First Lady Laura Bush, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

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 will be properly spent.

Despite the evident good intentions by all sides, many experts are sceptical whether the conference will yield 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.”