Warlords could seize control in Afghanistan

Stephanie Nebehay, GENEVA, Reuters

Afghanistan could slide back under the control of warlords if it fails to receive the aid it urgently needs, a top U.N. official said on Thursday.

Kenzo Oshima, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said US$777 million was needed to the end of this year to pay for food and shelter for returning refugees as well as costs such as police and army salaries.

He was speaking to a meeting in Geneva of U.N. officials and representatives from 15 donor countries less than a week after Vice-President Haji Abdul Qadir, a warlord businessman, was shot dead after his first morning’s work as public works minister.

Nigel Fisher, deputy to the U.N. special representative to Afghanistan, said: “Afghanistan is at a critical juncture in its transition and it is important that we continue to help it meet ongoing humanitarian needs and its efforts towards recovery.”

“Afghans do not deserve to slip back into the control of warlords,” Fisher told the one-day meeting of donor countries, including the United States, in a text obtained by Reuters.

Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan finance minister who took part in the talks, noted Qadir’s death followed that of tourism minister Dr. Abdul Rehman, gunned down at Kabul Airport in February.

“Many of us are likely to loose our lives in this process — these two are not going to be the only people — we are facing an environment of risk,” Ghani told a news conference.

“We should recall that a scant seven months ago, Afghanistan was under occupation of a terrorist regime. We have enemies,” he added.

Ghani said there was “near universal consensus” among Afghans on extending and expanding the Turkish-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond the capital. But this was up to the U.N. Security Council, he said.

Ambassador David Johnson, U.S. coordinator for Afghanistan, reiterated U.S. opposition to extending ISAF and said the focus should be on training Afghan police and troops.

“We’re trying to work with the Afghans, with those who have power in the regions, to seek to address the security challenges which are there, which are real,” he told a separate briefing.

“Addressing humanitarian needs and reconstruction requirements, helping build institutions of central authority — especially those associated with security such as an army and police force — are part and parcel of creating a secure environment where you won’t have this kind of destabilisation.”

The Bush administration has donated $450 million in aid to Afghanistan since September 11 and hopes Congress will approve its request for US$250 million in extra funding before its summer recess, according to Johnson.

Ghani said his country was still in the midst of a severe humanitarian crisis.

“More than one million refugees have returned, drought conditions prevail, there is food deprivation in parts of the country and people are exhausted,” he said.

The U.N. asked in February for US$1.6 billion for Afghanistan, emerging from decades of war compounded by several years of drought. The crisis has left almost one-third of the population dependent on emergency aid.