A revival package

Print edition : February 02, 2002

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan addresses the International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan in Tokyo on January 21. Others, from left, are Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Afghanistan's Interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.-DAVID GUTTENFELDER/AP

The $4.5-billion aid promised by donor-states at the Tokyo Conference, though inadequate, will enable the war-ravaged Afghanistan to start the process of reconstruction.

 

UNITED NATIONS Secretary General Kofi Annan estimated at $10 billion the cost of Afghanistan's reconstruction in the next five years. However, at the end of the January 21-22 International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan, the Afghan Interim Administration (AIA) was promised less than half that sum, $4.5 billion, by the assembled nations. Of this, $1.8 billion will be made available during 2002.

 

Hamid Karzai, the Chairman of the interim administration, pulled no punches in his criticism of the international community when he said on the opening day of the conference that he did not have money to pay his staff salaries.

Karzai said: "We will rapidly lose credibility, if we cannot pay our staff or deliver services to our people. While we understand the procedural requirements for delivery of international aid, unfortunately, we have seen little signs from the international community in response to our urgent needs. We see it as essential that the pledges are promptly materialised."

But now, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, though there are formidable hurdles in the path of the battered nation. After the pledging was over, Karzai said: "I will make sure that the money that comes as aid is not to be utilised by individuals or by groups or by anybody. It goes to the Afghan people. There is no way that (the misuse of donor assistance) can be allowed. Absolutely no."

Representatives from 61 nations attended the Tokyo conference. The United States, Japan and the European Union expectedly proved to be the largest donors. Iran and India were not far behind. And, as meetings on the sidelines showed, Teheran and New Delhi are proving to be a formidable combination as far as Afghanistan is concerned.

India's delegation was led by Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie, who held a meeting with Hamid Karzai and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi, among others. India's special envoy on Afghanistan S.K. Lambah and Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs Arun Singh, who is in charge of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, met with several leading members of the Karzai delegation.

New Delhi, for the moment, appears focussed on not missing the opportunities - both strategic and economic - that Afghanistan offers. India can do a lot in Afghanistan from road construction to the restoration of health care facilities - and in the process establish itself as a country with a major stake in Afghan affairs. But there are many other players and interests as well. Given the fact that the U.S. has bluntly warned Iran against "meddling" in Afghanistan, Washington may well have reservations about Indo-Iranian cooperation on Afghanistan.

While India has pledged about $200 million in assistance to Afghanistan, Iran has committed $560 million over the next five years. "As part of its international responsibilities, and especially in view of its historical ties of friendship and cooperation with Afghanistan and the Afghan people, India is committed to making a substantial contribution to assist the new Afghan government. We are also committed to the unity, sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Afghanistan," Arun Shourie said in his statement at the conference.

Shourie said: "India and Afghanistan, and the people of our two countries, have had a long-standing record of technical and economic cooperation in various fields: before 1979 Afghanistan was the largest partner in India's technical and economic cooperation programme. The areas of cooperation covered construction of dams, agriculture, hospitals, archaeology... We continued extending humanitarian relief and other assistance to the Afghan people even during the phase when the Taliban militia had taken over various parts of the country."

Shourie referred to the revival of the Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul, where artificial limbs are fitted; the setting up of primary health centres in different places with India's assistance; scholarships for students; concrete plans for infrastructure reconstruction; and a scheme to train Afghan diplomats in New Delhi.

EVEN as the international community does its bit for Afghanistan, the picture provided by a preliminary needs assessment made by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is a dismal one - five million refugees, one million internally displaced persons, two lakh people disabled by mines, the lowest life expectancy in the world (44 for males, 45 for females), primary school enrolment at 38 per cent for boys and 3 per cent for girls... There is no end to the tragedy of what has become one of the most wretched nations. Twenty-three years of war and destruction have taken their toll. The Taliban systematically excluded women from work, denied them access to education and deprived them of proper access to health care.

The challenge before the Karzai government is immense. Karzai's Cabinet is a motley group of people. Many non-official Afghans this correspondent spoke to in Tokyo were clear that real power lay with the Northern Alliance.

Security, as can be expected, is the chief requirement if Afghanistan is to turn its back on war and devastation and the Taliban. Not surprisingly, Karzai and his colleagues remain focussed on building a national army and a police force. Even the World Bank, the UNDP and the ADB said in their needs assessment:

"Achieving security is fundamental. The early establishment of a national security force will be essential, but it will also be important to harness the energy of local institutions and civil society leaders.

"The Bonn Agreement has infused a new sense of hope and possibility for Afghans to live in a safe and secure environment from arbitrary coercion and physical violence. The first step is the creation of a secure environment within which broader needs and priorities of a fragile political process are assured.

"Security for most Afghans is not an abstraction to be considered as part of a broader agenda of political convenience; it is the most urgent and crucial issue for consideration and support from the international community.

"It relates to immediate issues such as physical security and the institutional capacity to ensure it; reduction of small arms; demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants; access to homes and fields and a mine action programme that helps the disabled and refugees to return home; the restoration of livelihoods...

"The challenge for the AIA and the subsequent transitional administration is to establish effective security sector institutions able to provide security to communities and citizens while protecting the national sovereignty of the Afghan state and protecting human rights. The security sector (national army, police, intelligence, border and customs) should be professional, representative of the community, appropriately sized, effectively managed, and subordinate to the civilian authorities."

Clearly, Afghanistan needs everything and anything. But the free movement of people and goods is something that will be essential if reconstruction efforts are to take off.

In the many meetings Karzai and his Ministers had on the sidelines of the conference, the creation of an army, a police force and an intelligence agency are said to have figured prominently. Given the fact that the leading player on the Afghan scene is the U.S., Washington would definitely like to determine the security architecture of the country. In such a scenario, it may well clash with other key players such as Iran, which has backed the Northern Alliance. Karzai is a creature of the U.S. but will have to deal with the other Northern Alliance players in his team.

Non-official Afghans who attended the Tokyo conference said that Karzai government was a divided house and that the strongmen of the Northern Alliance called the shots. Ethnic divisions were also apparent, they said. For Karzai to carry weight with the dominant Pushtun ethnic group, he will have to bring his authority to bear on the administration. These Afghans also voiced their concern at the long-term presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Interestingly, the U.S., which is doing the mopping-up operations against the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, had both Secretary of State Colin Powell and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill attending the conference. And Colin Powell said twice in his prepared speech that the U.S. would not walk away from Afghanistan as it did after the Soviet withdrawal. Powell said: "I want to say to you (Karzai), and through you to the people of Afghanistan, that the American people are with you for the long term." He added: "President Bush has made it clear that the United States will not abandon the people of Afghanistan and we, as an international community, must not fail them."

These words, clearly, should not be restricted to the U.S. They should be applied to the whole international community. Afghanistan deserves that.

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