International donors meeting in Brussels have pledged more than $1.7 billion in aid to help rebuild Afghanistan, which has been devastated by decades of war.
European Union Foreign Relations Commissioner Chris Patten says international commitments to Afghanistan are not going to change regardless of events elsewhere, a reference to the threat of war with Iraq. Afghan officials have expressed fear that war in Iraq could make donors shift their focus away from Afghanistan.
Mr. Patten said the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai must be given strong support for reconstruction to succeed. "It must be clear throughout Afghanistan that President Karzai and the transitional authority are driving recovery and reconstruction, and that they hold the key to future prosperity," said Mr. Patten. "Second, the international community must ensure that financial pledges continue to translate into rapid delivery of aid programs."
The U.S. government representative at the conference, Alan Larson, said Washington would give $820 million in aid this year. The European Union pledged $432 million until the end of 2004, and Japan has offered another $500 million over the next two-and-a-half years.
Afghanistan needs large amounts of aid to rebuild from decades of war. Much of the country was damaged during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. The civil war that followed and the emergence of the Taleban government created further destruction.
Besides rebuilding the country, donors say there must be efforts to prevent the reintroduction of opium farming, which Afghan officials acknowledge is a growing problem. Impoverished Afghanistan in the past has turned to opium production to raise much-needed money.