Crucial Afghanistan conference opens in Paris

Other News Materials 12 June 2008 13:30 (UTC +04:00)

Representatives of 67 nations and 17 international organizations gathered in Paris Thursday to give a political boost, and collect a large sum of money, for the international development effort in Afghanistan, reported dpa.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy opened the conference by promising to double French aid to Kabul.

"We are not colonizers or missionaries. We want to work with the Afghan government," Sarkozy said.

The objective of the aid, the French president said, was "to rid Afghanistan of terrorists and of drugs."

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.

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

Karzai has put forward a five-year plan for economic and infrastructure reconstruction which will require 50 billion dollars to realize.

Priorities for the funds donated at the conference will be agriculture, energy, public health, education, transportation and, above all, security, which alone requires some 14 billion dollars in aid.

However, human rights and international aid groups are sceptical about the ability of the Afghan authorities to properly manage the aid, while Afghanis are complaining that they see little of the donated funds.

Afghan Trade and Industry Minister Amin Farhang told a German radio station that of 29 billion dollars that has been donated by the international community only 4.5 billion dollars actually reached the Afghan budget.

"The rest was spent by the donor nations themselves without coordination with the Afghan government," Farhang said. "We hope this will change now in Paris and that most of the money becomes part of the Afghan budget planning."

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 asked for more assurances that whatever money is pledged Thursday will be properly spent.

Despite the evident good intentions by all sides, many experts are sceptical that the conference will bring about 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."