U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has assured Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah that the Bush administration will work to speed the payment of international aid pledged for Afghan reconstruction. Senior Afghan officials visiting Washington this week have warned that the slow pace of aid deliveries could lead to renewed social unrest in the country.
The Afghan team in Washington has repeatedly expressed gratitude for U.S. and other international aid commitments to their country.
But in comments to reporters after talks with Mr. Powell, Foreign Minister Abdullah said the vast majority of the assistance since the start of the year has been humanitarian aid administered by foreign agencies.
He said the Kabul government has actually gotten "very little" reconstruction aid that can go to job-creating projects and give impoverished Afghans hope for the future.
"The important thing is that the international community, as our friends, and we as Afghans and authorities in Afghanistan, we have to seize this opportunity. The people of Afghanistan have to see the changes in their lives which have not taken place yet. They have to see projects they can work in, the projects which create jobs for the people and make changes in the whole situation," the Afghan foreign minister said.
At a Tokyo conference in January, international donors led by the United States, the European community, Japan and Saudi Arabia pledged to contribute more than $5.5 billion over five years to rebuild Afghanistan.
But Foreign Minister Abdullah said that less $700 million pledged at Tokyo has actually been disbursed, and 80 per cent of that has been food and other humanitarian aid administrated by the U.N. and non-governmental organizations.
For his part, Secretary Powell said the Bush administration is "totally committed" to the reconstruction of Afghanistan and will press its fellow donors to deliver on their Tokyo pledges:
"I also told him we are deeply engaged with our friends in the international community, reviewing how to get the reconstruction aid and the humanitarian aid delivered more rapidly, and how we're working hard to make sure that all those who have made commitments to the reconstruction effort in the international community make good on their commitments as soon as possible, because the need is great," Mr. Powell said.
Bush administration officials say the United States has delivered $450 million in aid to Afghanistan this year, far exceeding the $297 million it pledged at Tokyo.
They also said some international donors have been slow to deliver aid out of concern that the Kabul government is not yet capable of effectively spending, and accounting for, large amounts of money.
Mr. Powell said the Afghan government is becoming "more effective every day."
He cited the daunting challenge faced by President Hamid Karzai and his colleagues in going, as he put it, "from a standing start" to put in place all the systems needed to run a central administration.