Karzai returns from conference with fraction of funds he needed

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The Independent Online

The conference on Afghanistan ended yesterday with Hamid Karzai's government receiving just a fraction of what it claimed was needed to rebuild the country.

At the same time there were fresh warnings over the dangers that British forces being sent to Afghanistan will face, and confusion over how to tackle the country's massive opium production.

The Afghan government had said that a minimum of $20bn (£11bn) was needed over five years. But the total promised aid at the end of the London summit was $10.5bn. However, since 20 per cent of that was "old pledges" on the table, the real figure was $8bn.

The United States was the biggest contributor with an offer of $4bn over five years while Britain said it will give $885m. Another $1.2bn will come from the World Bank.

The Foreign Office minister Kim Howells declared the conference - co-hosted by Tony Blair, the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan and President Karzai - a "great success". But the Afghan Finance Minister, Anwar al-Haq Ahady, expressed disappointment that the total amount of funding on offer fell short of his government's expectations.

Mr Ahady said he was confident that all the money pledged would be delivered. But privately Afghan officials expressed concern about possible delays. One official said: "How soon the money arrives will be extremely important. We have had elections and we have to persuade the people that the democratic system works. It would be very, very bad if we now cannot deliver on our promise.

"It is especially bad because we are now facing the biggest extremist [al-Qa'ida and Taliban] threat since the war."

General Abdul Rahim Wardak, the Afghan Defence Minister, warned that the 6,000-strong British task force would be on the front line of the threat.

The British force will be mainly deployed in Helmand province, to counter a new offensive by a resurgent Taliban and al-Qa'ida, which has seen a hundred Americans killed in the past few months - the same number as British soldiers killed in the entire Iraq conflict. In particular, there has been a rise in the number of suicide bombings - hitherto relatively unknown in Afghanistan, but a popular weapon of the insurgents in Iraq.

General Wardak said: "We are facing a new phenomenon. They used to be mainly foreigners but now unfortunately there are some Afghans. They are religious fanatics. Suicide bombings are against our tradition, they are against our religious beliefs."

The general said there was widespread infiltration from across the "porous" border with Pakistan. He said the Pakistani government had claimed to have deployed 70,000 troops along the frontier but there appeared to be large swaths of the country that were beyond government control.

The Afghan government had reported a steady stream of foreign nationals, allegedly linked to al-Qa'ida and the Iraq insurgency, infiltrating across the border.

Yesterday Afghan forces reported the arrest of an Iraqi and three Pakistanis at Zaranj, the capital of Nimroz province in the south.

Earlier this week, five Bangladeshis were arrested in the same area. The provincial governor, Ghulam Dushtaqir Azad, said they had links with the Taliban .

The British Government has announced that British troops will be engaged in tackling Afghanistan's opium crop - the largest in the world. But the British troops will be under a Nato mandate, which does not include eradicating poppies. An international think-tank, the Senlis Council, has appointed a team of lawyers to ascertain whether British forces engaged in destroying poppy fields would be in breach of international law.

The Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram said yesterday that British troops will not engage in directly eradicating poppy fields, but they would support Afghan anti-drug operations. He said eradication without providing new sources of livelihood for the farmers would "breed resentment and anger towards Nato and the Afghan government. It will create conditions for greater resistance and insurgency with the warlords exploiting real grievances for their own malign advantage."

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