Major donors offer US$16 bil. in Afghan aid

By Arshad Mohammed and Kiyoshi Takenaka ,Reuters

TOKYO — Major donors pledged on Sunday to give Afghanistan US$16 billion in development aid over the next four years as they seek to prevent it from sliding back into chaos when foreign troops leave, but demanded reforms to fight widespread corruption. Donor fatigue and war weariness have taken their toll on how long the global community is willing to support Afghanistan and there are concerns about security following the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014 if financial backing is not secured. “Afghanistan’s security cannot only be measured by the absence of war,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an international donors’ conference in Tokyo. “It has to be measured by whether people have jobs and economic opportunity, whether they believe their government is serving their needs, whether political reconciliation proceeds and succeeds.” The Afghan central bank has estimated that at least US$6 billion a year in new investment from foreign donors will be needed to foster economic growth over the next decade. Clinton also stressed the importance of Afghanistan — one of the most corrupt nations in the world – of taking aggressive action to fight graft and promote reforms. President Hamid Karzai admits his government needs to do more to tackle corruption, but his critics say he is not doing enough, and some directly blame authorities for vast amounts of aid not reaching the right people.

“We have agreed that we need a different kind of long-term economic partnership, one built on Afghan progress in meeting its goals, in fighting corruption, in carrying out reform, and providing good governance,” Clinton said.

Conditions Apply U.S. officials provided no monetary figure for their expected aid, but said the administration would ask Congress to keep assistance levels stable through 2017 compared with the assistance Washington has offered over the past decade. Japan pledged US$3 billion in aid for Afghanistan through 2016. Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said US$2.2 billion of that amount would be grants for development projects in areas like investment in roads and infrastructure. The EU has said it will continue with pledges of 1.2 billion euros a year, but warned that if progress is not made with rule of law and women’s rights, this could be difficult to continue.

The pledges made in Tokyo are on top of the US$4.1 billion by NATO and its partners for supporting the Afghan security forces. Representatives from about 80 countries and international aid organizations, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, were gathered in Tokyo to discuss aid for Afghanistan beyond 2014.

International donors provided US$35 billion in aid to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2010, but the return on that development aid has been mixed. Per capita economic output increased five-fold over the same period, but Afghanistan remains one of the five poorest nations. Major strides have been made in schooling children and improving access to health care, but three-quarters of the 30 million Afghans are illiterate and the average person earns only about US$530 a year, according to the World Bank. The government has identified several priority areas for economic development, including investment in agriculture and mining, which Western officials see as a possible engine for future growth. Afghanistan is believed to have up to a trillion dollars’ worth of untapped mineral wealth.