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Afghanistan's President Pledges More Efficient Government - 2004-04-20

International donors are meeting in Afghanistan to discuss how to use more than $8 billion in promised aid. The conference began with a pledge by Afghanistan's president to overhaul his cabinet and make his government more efficient.

The three-day Afghan Development Forum opened in the capital Kabul, with representatives from international donors meeting with Afghanistan's leadership to discuss how to spend incoming foreign aid.

Earlier this month, more than 60 donor nations and aid organizations met in Berlin to pledge $8.2 billion for the war-ravaged country.

Speaking at the opening session, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced a plan to make his administration more accountable by reducing its 29 ministries.

Mr. Karzai did not specify which ministries would be consolidated, but promised a draft proposal in the coming weeks.

Critics of Afghanistan's transitional government say many cabinet ministers were appointed to insure support for the government in key constituencies, and that many ministries have overlapping jobs.

Afghan sources say the cabinet shake-up has long been urged by the United States, Afghanistan's top source of financial and security aid.

The United Nations special representative to Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, said the transitional government must uphold its part of the aid bargain by making sure international funds are put to proper use. "Rightly, the government expects to be taken at its word and held responsible for implementation of the benchmark that is chosen," he said.

But he added the donors also have promises to keep. "The international community's commitment, too, must be kept," he said. "Pledges must be turned into disbursements, and promises of political and security support fulfilled."

He cited a need for further international military forces in the face of Afghanistan's ongoing anti-government insurgency, led by remnants of the country's former Taleban regime.

He said this security assistance will be needed even after Afghanistan's general election, planned for September.