International Donors Pledge Additional $21 Billion for Afghanistan

By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 13, 2008

PARIS, June 12 -- Responding to concern that Afghanistan is backsliding and becoming more vulnerable to extremism, international donors led by the United States pledged more than $21 billion Thursday to help the country develop infrastructure and institutions and combat drugs, poverty and violence.

The renewed commitment to help rebuild Afghanistan came during a one-day conference in Paris attended by more than 80 countries and international organizations. Many speakers said that not enough had been accomplished to create a stable and secure state in the more than six years since a U.S.-led coalition overthrew the Taliban regime.

"We all know that success will not be easy, but Afghanistan has reached a decisive moment for its future," said first lady Laura Bush, who recently visited Afghanistan and led the U.S. delegation here. "We must not turn our back on this opportunity."

Bush announced that the United States will commit $10.2 billion to Afghanistan over the next two years, funding more than one-fifth of a new $50 billion, five-year development plan unveiled at the conference by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai vowed to redouble efforts to stamp out corruption and the booming drug trade but said that governments and international institutions needed to better coordinate their assistance.

"The current development process that is marred by confusion and parallel structures undermines institution-building," he said at the conference.

The Afghan government's inability to provide security and extend its authority across the country has disillusioned many Afghans, who disparagingly refer to Karzai as the mayor of Kabul. In the past two years, rising crime and violence, a surge in drug cultivation and production, widespread official corruption and grinding poverty have contributed to the resurgence of the Taliban, the Islamist extremist group that harbored Osama bin Laden.

More than 6,000 people were killed in Afghanistan in 2007, up from 4,000 in 2006, according to human rights groups. More than 200 people were killed in 140 suicide attacks. The cultivation of poppies and production of opium are rampant, with Afghanistan now supplying 93 percent of the world's heroin.

In addition to the United States, other large donors included the Asian Development Bank ($1.3 billion), the World Bank ($1.1 billion), Britain ($1.2 billion) and the European Union ($770 million). The new pledges are in addition to the $25 billion pledged to Afghanistan since 2002. International aid groups say that only about $15 billion of those earlier pledges has been delivered, in part because of concerns about corruption, inefficiency and the lack of accountability.

The slow progress in combating the country's entrenched problems was a theme of Thursday's conference. Many people warned that international donors had to radically change their mind-sets about how to promote development and security in Afghanistan.

One problem highlighted by the World Bank was that international organizations have given too much aid directly to Afghans rather than channeling it through the government. As a result, the government gets no credit for helping the people, its legitimacy suffers and its employees do not develop the capacity to do work themselves.

A major focus of the conference was Karzai's new five-year Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS), which calls for increasing self-sufficiency, focusing more development aid on agriculture and energy production, beefing up the army and enlarging the national police, among other goals.

There was strong consensus at the meeting that Afghanistan has made huge strides since 2001. But the apparent progress obscures grim realities. Although 85 percent of the country's 32.7 million people now have access to health services, compared with 9 percent in 2004, according to an ANDS report, one in five children still die before age 5. Life expectancy is just 46 years, and the maternal mortality rate is 16 deaths per 1,000 live births, one of the highest in the world, according to the United Nations. About 53 percent of the country lives below the poverty line. And while more than 3,500 schools have been built since 2001, according to the State Department, about half of all children -- predominantly girls -- do not go to school, the aid group Oxfam says.

"There has been undoubted social and economic progress in Afghanistan, but it has been slow and is being undermined by increasing insecurity," the group said in a recent report. "It is inevitable that Afghans turn to narcotics, criminality or even militancy if they cannot feed their families."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company