A two-day Afghanistan aid conference has opened in Tokyo with an impassioned plea from the country's interim leader Hamid Karzai and pledges of more than $1 billion from donor nations thus far. The funds will help cover the immediate costs of rebuilding the nation.
Prime Minister Hamid Karzai told representatives of more than 50 countries and about two dozen aid organizations that Afghanistan has known nothing but disaster, war, brutality and deprivation for many years.
He says his government's goals include resolving a monetary crisis, sending two million students back to school by March, and helping communities manage resources.
He says Taleban leaders looted the central bank when they fled, leaving government coffers virtually empty.
Above all, he asked for help. "To deal effectively with the root cause of this humanitarian crisis," he said, "we need the international community to support reconstruction and developing. On our part, we are fully committed to accountability, transparency and efficiency in the use of financial aid."
Major aid donors have been quick to respond. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Mr. Karzai that the American people were with him for the long term. Mr. Powell said, "On behalf of the United States I am pleased to announce that the United States will give $296 million dollars in this fiscal year to the Afghan people for the reconstruction of their society and their nation."
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi says he wants to see the people of Afghanistan put down guns and pick up farming tools. "Japan will contribute up to $500 million over the next two-and-a-half years before the establishment of a permanent government. To start, for the first coming year, we are prepared to provide a maximum amount of $250 million," he said.
The European Commission will give $177 million this year and will try to raise an additional $890 million by 2006. Over the next day-and-a-half, other nations will offer more funds, some of it aimed at specific goals, such as building an independent justice system or removing land mines.
International organizations at the conference say that half of all Afghan children are malnourished, two-thirds of Afghan adults are illiterate and just six percent of the population has electricity.