Afghan President Hamid Karzai, addressing the U.N. General Assembly Thursday, made a blunt appeal for donor countries to make good on pledges made at the Tokyo conference on Afghan reconstruction last January. He said the international community has an interest in assuring that Afghanistan does not once again descend into conflict.
The Tokyo conference nominally raised more than $4.5 billion for re-building Afghanistan's infrastructure after more than two decades of occupation and civil conflict. But Mr. Karzai told the General Assembly the actual payments are coming in too slowly and most of the pledged money is yet to delivered.
The Afghan leader effusively thanked the international community for its support in delivering emergency food aid to stave off hunger after the ouster of the Taleban regime late last year, and said a humanitarian crisis still exists in his country.
However, he said Afghanistan also badly needs the reconstruction funds, which he said will go to job-creating public works programs which will treat the causes of poverty, not its symptoms.
"Implementation of labor-intensive projects throughout Afghanistan has a direct influence on security and de-mobilization of combatants," he said. "Despite these facts, the level of direct financial support provided to the Afghan government can be characterized as insufficient. Considering the generosity of donors at the Tokyo conference, where over $4.5 billion was pledged to support Afghanistan. The Afghan people urgently need the pledges in Tokyo to be turned into reality, in other words, cash."
Mr. Karzai made no direct mention of the attempt on his life in Kandahar earlier this month. But he said the key to security in the country lies in the creation of a national army and police force, which he said is a top priority for his government.
In the meantime, he said there is broad support around the country for the expansion of the international security force in Afghanistan (ISAF), which is now basically limited to patrolling the Kabul area.
The Afghan leader likened the destruction of New York's twin World Trade Center Towers by al-Qaida terrorists a year ago to the demolition of historic statues of Buddha in Afghanistan by the former Taleban regime. He said neither al-Qaida, nor the Taleban which gave it shelter, represented Islam.
"Terrorism and violence are against the teachings of Islam, a religion that stands for peace, respect for human dignity, dialogue and tolerance," he emphasized. "The Taleban, which destroyed our country and cultural heritage, did not represent Afghans. And we do not consider the al-Qaida to represent the Arab world. And the two of them did not represent Islam."
Mr. Karzai met earlier in the day with President Bush, who announced a joint U.S.-Saudi and Japanese aid package of $180 million for road construction in Afghanistan. Mr. Bush said the package makes clear the commitment of the United States and its partners to a stable, free and peaceful Afghanistan is a long-term undertaking.
Mr. Karzai, who met the President at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said the new aid is a "step in the right direction" toward Afghan self-reliance.