Afghanistan is appealing to European donors to open their wallets at an international donors' conference Wednesday, arguing that jobs created through development projects will help stem the tide of migrants that is destabilizing the European continent.
High unemployment combined with growing insecurity drove nearly 200,000 Afghans to Europe last year, exacerbating the global migrant crisis.
European nations have struggled to cope with the flood of young Afghan asylum seekers, and exerted pressure on Afghanistan to roll back the human exodus.
"If we hesitate to address the migration issue, public opinion in European countries will change, and this could impact aid," Eklil Hakimi, Afghanistan's finance minister, told Afghan lawmakers Sunday.
Salahuddin Rabbani, the Afghan foreign minister, added that European nations have warned Afghanistan that it risked a reduction in aid if it did not act on migration.
"The migrant crisis has changed politics in the host countries," Rabbani told members of Afghanistan's lower house of Parliament. "They have put forward strict immigration laws and repeatedly asked Afghanistan to take responsibility for its asylum seekers."
Afghan officials say they can stop the migration to Europe, but they need international support to create jobs that will keep the youth in the country.
Support for Afghanistan
The two officials are accompanying President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Dr. Abdullah Abdullah to the Brussels conference where Afghanistan will present its new national peace and development framework — a five-year reform, governance and economic development plan.
Afghanistan and the European Union are co-hosting the conference, which will be attended by representatives from more than 70 countries and 20 international organizations and agencies. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are among conference speakers.
The development framework, which aims to "achieve self-reliance and increase the welfare of [the Afghan] people," requires billions of dollars in funding.
Hakimi estimated that donors will pledge $3.5 billion toward financing the development plan.
Among major donors, Britain said this week it would provide almost $1 billion in development aid to Afghanistan over the next five years.
A State Department spokesman declined to say how much the U.S. planned to commit and referred questions to the conference organizers.
James Cunningham, who served as U.S. ambassador to Kabul from 2012 to 2014, said there is wide support for continued commitment to Afghanistan.
"Another cause for optimism is it's pretty unprecedented to have that degree of international agreement on almost anything," Cunningham said Monday, speaking on a panel about Afghanistan at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
While asking for billions of dollars in funding, Afghanistan is also pledging to wean itself off foreign aid through economic growth and job creation. The development plan envisions Afghanistan's reliance on foreign aid dropping from 70 percent of government expenditure to 40/50 percent by 2020, as domestic revenue grows from 10.3 percent of GDP to about 14.0 percent of GDP.
Job creation will be key not only to reducing reliance to foreign aid, but also to stopping the mass migration from the country.
Without "a big increase in jobs, Afghans will continue to resort to desperate measures such as illicit narcotics production, out-migration, and joining violent criminal networks," according to a draft of the development plan.
The plan will take time to bear fruit and will require sustained donor support.
"The sustainable development that will help Afghanistan meet its many challenges, bring an end to poverty, and ensure security and stability for our country will take longer than a single generation to realize," the plan says.
The Brussels conference comes less than three months after NATO leaders met in Warsaw and agreed to fund Afghanistan's security forces for the next four years, to the tune of $3 billion.
The U.S. provides roughly $3.5 billion annually in support of the 350,000 members of the Afghan armed forces, in addition to about $1 billion in development aid.
The United States and its partners have a shared interest in supporting Afghanistan's reform and development agenda, Cunningham said.
"The planks are already in place to demonstrate there is going to be long-term international engagement in Afghanistan," he said.
VOA's Afghanistan Service contributed to this report.