International donors pledge over £10bn in development aid for Afghanistan

 

International donors pledged more than £10 billion today in badly-needed development aid for Afghanistan over the next four years when most foreign troops will leave, as President Hamid Karzai urged the international community not to abandon his country.

The major donors' conference in Tokyo, Japan, attended by about 70 countries and organisations, is aimed at setting aid levels for the crucial period through and beyond 2014, when most Nato-led foreign combat troops will leave and the war-torn country will assume responsibility for most of its own security.

“I request Afghanistan's friends and partners to reassure the Afghan people that you will be with us,” Mr Karzai said in his opening statement.

Japanese foreign minister and US officials travelling with secretary of state Hillary Clinton said the donors had made 16 billion dollars available through 2015, which would be in line with the nearly four billion dollars a year that the Japanese co-hosts had said they were hoping to achieve during the one-day conference.

Japan, the second-largest donor, says it will provide up to three billion through 2016, and Germany has announced it will keep its contribution to rebuilding and development at its current level of 536 million dollars a year, at least until 2016.

But the donors are also expected to set up review and monitoring measures to assure the aid is used for development and not wasted by corruption or mismanagement, which has been a major hurdle in putting aid projects into practice.

“We have to face harsh realities filled with difficulties,”' said Japan's prime minister Yoshihiko Noda.

Afghanistan has received nearly 60 billion dollars (£39bn) in civilian aid since 2002. The World Bank says foreign aid makes up nearly the equivalent of the country's gross domestic product.

Foreign aid in the decade since the US invasion in 2001 has led to better education and health care, with nearly eight million children, including three million girls, enrolled in schools. That compares with one million children more than a decade ago, when girls were banned from school under the Taliban.

Improved health facilities have halved child mortality and expanded basic health services to nearly 60% of Afghanistan population of more than 25 million, compared with less than 10% in 2001.

But the flow of aid is expected to sharply diminish after international troops withdraw, despite the ongoing threat the country faces from the Taliban and other Islamic militants.

Along with security issues, donors have become wary of widespread corruption and poor project governance. Before the conference, Japanese officials said they were seeking a mechanism to regularly review how the aid money is being spent, and guarantees from Kabul that aid would not be squandered.

The US portion is expected to be in the decade-long annual range of one billion dollars to this year's 2.3 billion. Officials declined to outline the future annual US allotments going forward, but the Obama administration has requested a similarly high figure for next year as it draws down American troops and hands over greater authority to Afghan forces.

The total amount of international civilian support represents a slight trailing off from the current annual level of around five billion dollars (£3.2bn), a number somewhat inflated by US efforts to give a short-term boost to civilian reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, mirroring President Barack Obama's decision in 2009 to ramp up military manpower in the hopes of routing the Taliban insurgency.

The aid is intended nevertheless to provide a stabilising factor as Afghanistan transitions to greater independence from international involvement.

But it will come with conditions. The pledges are expected to establish a road map of accountability to ensure that Afghanistan does more to improve governance and finance management, and to safeguard the democratic process, rule of law and human rights - especially those of women.

Mr Karzai vowed to “fight corruption with strong resolve”. But he still faces international weariness with the war and frustration over his failure to crack down on corruption.

Mrs Clinton, who briefly visited the Afghan capital on Saturday before heading to Tokyo, had breakfast with Mr Karzai and acknowledged that corruption was a “major problem”.

The four billion dollars in annual civilian aid comes on top of 4.1 billion dollars in yearly assistance pledged last May at a Nato conference in Chicago to fund the Afghan National Security Forces from 2015 to 2017.

AP

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