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World Must Provide Funding for Afghanistan, says US Treasury Secretary

Treasury Secretary John Snow says the rest of the world must join the United States in providing funding for Afghanistan. While Mr. Snow is upbeat on Afghanistan's recovery, some observers say the country still has a long way to go.

Speaking in the Afghan capital, Kabul, Mr. Snow said the struggling Central Asian nation needs foreign aid to provide it with the security and infrastructure it needs to build a viable economy.

He says the United States plans to offer large-scale financial assistance during the next 12 months, and feels the international community should match those funds.

"The United States has talked in terms of a billion dollars, and we have said we want to see the rest of the world, the G-7 and Europe, Japan, other countries in this region, contribute, at a minimum, a like amount," he said.

Mr. Snow arrived in the country from Saudi Arabia, where he said he was encouraged by Saudi indications that they would participate in the post-war recovery of Afghanistan, as well as in similar efforts in Iraq.

Overall, the treasury secretary says Afghanistan's transitional government is doing a good job in setting the stage for a prosperous future.

"This country is on the right course, but it takes courageous leadership to stay the course, and in you and in the president and in the cabinet, you have that leadership," said US Treasury Secretary.

He cited a new agreement to open the country's fledgling financial system to foreign banks, calling it a milestone in Afghanistan's economic reconstruction.

But some analysts say little has really changed for the Afghan economy since the 2001 war that ousted the hardline Islamist Taleban government.

Iffat Zehra Mankani, head economic researcher for Capital One Equities in neighboring Pakistan, says Afghanistan's economy is currently driven almost entirely by foreign firms taking aid contracts.

"I do not think there are any substantial signs of sustainable growth taking place," she said. "Right now, it is only that some efforts are being made, and the countries are capitalizing on the opportunities that are available in that area."

She says the lack of security in much of the country poses the main obstacle to real economic growth.

An ongoing insurgency by Taleban remnants and other militant dissidents is fueling instability in the country's southern and eastern regions.

Government forces and their U.S. allies have launched offensives in those areas, reporting 11 suspected Taleban killed in the past three days, and more than 100 insurgents killed since the end of August.

But U.S. forces admit that the militants pose a major threat to region.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which commands 5,000 peacekeepers in Kabul, reportedly plans to expand its mandate beyond the capital to help with the security situation.

The Afghan government, as well as the United Nations and numerous aid groups, have long called for a larger peacekeeping presence in the country.

In addition to the Taleban insurgency, wide areas of Afghanistan have been plagued by banditry and rival warlords.