Accessibility links

Tokyo to Host Afghan Donor Conference - 2002-01-18

Representatives from nearly 60 countries are to meet in Tokyo Monday and Tuesday to pledge billions of dollars in aid to help rebuild Afghanistan. That is only a portion of what experts say is needed for Afghanistan following the ouster of the Taleban and decades of fighting.

World Bank President James Wolfensohn says without a massive reconstruction program, there is no way to have peace in Afghanistan. He says $15 billion are needed over the next 10 years. Other estimates have put the total as high as $30 or even $50 billion.

The Tokyo donors conference will seek to attract pledges of $5 billion for the first two-and-a-half years. And Mr. Wolfensohn says the first job will be to provide cash to the interim government of Prime Minister Hamid Karzai so it can hire civil servants and be able to govern.

Sid Balman, spokesman for Interaction, a Washington-based organization that helps coordinate the activities of 160 relief and development groups, says the priority of the reconstruction aid package should be to quickly give the Afghan people a stake in their economy. "What I mean by that is rehiring civil servants who were purged from the government by the Taleban - some might say ethnically cleansed," he says. "About 43 percent of those civil servants were women. Women should be a priority, women and children, in the development process. Another area will be in recreation of the infrastructure. We don't anticipate that they're going to be able to collect taxes for a while. And there's about $1.8 billion of recurring costs, government costs, that need to be paid for."

Mr. Balman says other priorities of the aid program should be removing landmines and the literal reconstruction of important facilities, including health care programs and schools. "And again, much of this focuses on women and children. We know through our experience that women anchor households, and they anchor communities. And in countries where women are leading the way in these areas, they tend to develop more quickly and the development sticks," he says.

Barnett Rubin, director of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, says the situation in Afghanistan presents many obstacles to the reconstruction effort - things that most people just take for granted. "First of all, the currency of the country is in terrible condition, and very unstable, so it's very difficult to estimate costs. Second, even if the currency were more stable, there's no banking system, so just you take all this money - there's no where to put it so that you can disburse it to people. Third, there's no basic security so it's difficult to move around and make assessments, talk with people and decide what needs to be done and then do it. Fourth, the communications infrastructure is so poor that it's extremely difficult just to make appointments to see people," Mr. Rubin explains.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, during a brief visit to Kabul Thursday, said the United States will make a significant contribution to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, adding that the amount will be announced at the Tokyo meeting. Some members of Congress have said the United States is carrying the bulk of the military burden in Afghanistan so it should not take the lead in rebuilding the country.

Barnett Rubin says the United States has no choice but to take a lead role. "Frankly, other countries are going to be looking to the U.S. for some indication of how much they should be contributing," he says. "And if the U.S. takes the position that, 'well, we'll give something, but this is not really our role,' and cuts back its contribution, I'm afraid that other countries are going to cut back their contributions as well."

Sid Balman says the United States has another reason for taking a lead role, "to repair the mistakes of the Cold War that it made in Afghanistan. They [the United States] conducted a military operation there during the 1980s, aimed primarily at blocking the former Soviet Union," says Mr. Balman. "When that mission was complete, the country was devastated and the U.S. left. Although it's different circumstances now, we're at a similar point. They've conducted a military operation there. The country has been devastated. Now, they can't just leave. They should stay and help repair that damage - not just because it's the right thing to do. But America has learned since September 11, that there is a connection between failed states and breeding ground for extremists to recruit dispossessed people."

At his news conference in Kabul, Secretary Powell promised the United States will stand by Afghanistan for a long time, saying "we will be with you in this current crisis and in the future."