World to pledge billions of dollars in Afghan support

Financial assistance dependent on Karzai cracking down on human rights abuses
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The Independent Online

The international community is set formally to declare it will provide financial support for Afghanistan, estimated to amount to billions of dollars, for at least 10 years after Western forces leave, The Independent has learnt. President Hamid Karzai is expected to guarantee in return that his government will take measures to combat human rights abuses and crack down on corruption.

The commitments are due to be made today at the end of the Bonn conference being held to set out a road map for the future of Afghanistan after the Nato military mission ends its combat role in 2014. There has been apprehension that foreign donors may baulk at the huge sums needed by the Kabul government – at least $7.2bn (£4.6bn) over a decade according to the World Bank – but there was said to be agreement yesterday that it was imperative to maintain support.

The summit, with 86 countries and 15 international organisations represented, was not meant for the pledging of specific sums. However, a number of states came forward, unexpectedly according to delegates, with immediate offers of contributions during preliminary talks at the weekend.

Even with the development of indigenous mineral resources, Afghanistan would only have been able to raise half the revenue needed for the upkeep of its fledgling infrastructure, education and health services, as well as the 352,000-strong security force being built up. The World Bank figure will make Afghanistan the world's largest recipient of foreign aid. Other analysts hold that the full amount may be closer to $10bn.

It has also been decided that a Nato review of the projected final size of the Afghan security forces should be speeded up. The issue was due to be considered next summer, but military commanders have urged the study be completed by that time in order to work out the rate of withdrawal for 2014.

Some donor countries would like to see Afghan troop numbers being cut due to the budgetary constraints, while military chiefs in Pakistan have protested that a force of more than 350,000 is far more than necessary. However, the Pakistani military and intelligence service, the ISI, have long been accused of having links with insurgents in Afghanistan, and a senior US defence source stressed yesterday that: "Iraq, which has a smaller population and faces less of a terrorist threat than Afghanistan, has a combined security force of around 620,000.

"If we cut the Afghan capability too much it just means more likelihood that we may have to go back again in the future if things go wrong. Of course some people in the Pakistani military want the Afghan numbers reduced."

Pakistan has decided not to attend Bonn following the death of 24 soldiers in clashes with Nato forces. Islamabad reportedly indicated that it may reconsider if Barack Obama apologises for the deaths. The US administration has refused and disputes the Pakistani version of what took place.