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Donors' Conference Gives Afghanistan Much of Its Aid Request - 2004-04-01

At a just-completed international donors' conference, Afghanistan got much of what it asked for in funds for reconstruction of that battered country. The Afghan government also won some intangible backing as well.

The donor countries at the conference in Berlin were generous, but still balked at the long-term request sought by the interim government of President Hamid Karzai.

Afghan officials arrived at the conference bearing a development plan that called for $27.6 billion in international aid over a seven-year period. But donor countries pledged $8.2 billion over the next three years, with about one-quarter of that coming from the United States.

Mark Sedra, an Afghan specialist with the Bonn International Center for Conversion, a German-based development group, says it was perhaps unrealistic to expect the international community to fulfill the entire request now. Still, he says, there was some hope that they might do so in light of what was being expended on reconstruction in Iraq.

"However, when you consider that in Iraq, $22 billion has been pledged for the reconstruction of that country over a five-year period, I guess there was some hope that since the countries are of equal size and relatively close population, they would be able to find a sort of similar figure for Afghanistan," he said.

Nevertheless, says Barnett Rubin of the Center for International Cooperation at New York University, the Afghans got much of they came for. Speaking from the Berlin conference site, Mr. Rubin, a leading expert on Afghanistan, says the international community demonstrated that it is united when it comes to Afghanistan.

"I think the Afghans asked for something, they got very much of what they wanted," he said. "If anything, I think the spirit here was a determination to show that, whatever is happening with Iraq, first of all, there is unity between the United States and the rest of the international community on Afghanistan, and, second, that the international community as a whole is very determined to make Afghanistan a success."

Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University, says the donor conference was really more of an investment conference, with Mr. Karzai and his Western-educated finance minister Ashraf Ghani playing the roles of chief executive officer and chief finance officer. The contributing governments, he says, gave the Karzai government a strong vote of confidence by opening their pocketbooks.

"This is to my way of thinking a vote of confidence in the leadership. A donor conference is really a meeting with investors," he said. "It's not donors; they're investors. And the investors are sitting there listening very, very hard to the CEO and the CFO and so on make a pitch for what the company is doing. That's what Karzai, that's what Ghani were up to. They passed this test with flying colors."

If there was a down side to the conference, say analysts, it was on the security side. Mr. Karzai has been struggling to establish credibility and control over the untamed countryside. NATO, which leads the peacekeeping effort in Kabul, said it would establish five more provincial reconstruction teams, but made no other security commitment.

Mark Sedra says NATO countries remain skittish about deploying outside the capital. "This is really the big problem because there is still a fear that deploying troops outside of the capital would place these forces under undue risk, and could result in significant casualties and a pullout eventually," he said.

NATO has pledged to provide security for the September elections but has made no concrete commitment on numbers or types of troops it would send.