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UN Envoy: Secure Enviroment Needed in Afghanistan - 2001-11-27

As the conference on Afghanistan's political future was opening in Germany Tuesday, a conference on aid and reconstruction of the war-ravaged country was underway in Pakistan. Some 200 delegates crowded a hall of an Islamabad hotel Tuesday for a three-day meeting on how to best rebuild Afghanistan. Delegates made a clear correlation between aid and security.

Speakers at the opening day of the conference called for immediate action to plan for the massive task of Afghanistan's reconstruction. However, they say an uncertain security situation makes that task difficult.

Karl Fischer, deputy U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan, said the political process now underway in Bonn goes hand-in-hand with the process of aid and reconstruction. But he said little can be done unless there is a secure working environment for aid efforts.

"Much of this, of course, will depend on effective security arrangements. Without security, little will be possible, least of all recovery and reconstruction," Mr. Fischer explained.

The conference - jointly sponsored by the United Nations, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank - brings together officials of those three organizations as well as Afghan and foreign aid workers.

Afghanistan faces a daunting task. It will need extensive help to rebuild the country and that is in addition to the immediate urgent need of helping the Afghans facing cold and starvation this winter. An estimated one-point-four million people have been forced from their homes by famine or fighting or a combination of both.

Officials said there is plenty of aid available - especially food aid - but that the security situation makes it difficult to get the aid to people who need it.

Mike Sackett, Afghanistan coordinator of the U.N. Development Program, said there are deep concerns about what will happen if the security situation does not improve. "The other side of the coin - the pessimistic scenario - is principally characterized by a lack of stability by, for example, the factional fighting we're seeing around Mazar-e-Sharif, by the presence of marauding, heavily armed remnants of the Taleban [and] by the existence of roadblocks in the main arteries throughout Afghanistan," he said.

He said convoys traveling the nearly 300 kilometers from the Pakistani border city, Peshawar, to the Afghan capital, Kabul, have been encountering a rough time.

"For example, it now and I'm talking about within the last few days it now takes three and a half days for a relief truck to negotiate the route from Peshawar to Kabul, compared with the normal time of two days. Every few kilometers, there are roadblocks, there are holdups, money has to be paid for relief items to go through," Mr. Sackett explained.

Mr. Fischer called on the international donor community to help pay for Afghanistan's political rebuilding, as well as helping more traditional aid projects, such as roads and schools. "Let me also, on this occasion, request the donor community to consider possibilities of funding the political process, itself, in the short term. The treasury of Afghanistan is empty. As of today, nobody knows how the working of the provisional authority or the reformation of civil society in Afghanistan can be funded or at least financially supported," he said.

The conference hopes to emerge from its closed-door deliberations with a blueprint for helping Afghanistan.