Afghanistan: As World Looks Away, Reconstruction Needs Grow

Sep 22 2003

By Peyman Pejman

DUBAI, Sep (IPS) – Afghan officials say they need three times as much as
previously estimated to rebuild their country in the coming years, but
experts and analysts here point out that the world is unlikely to commit
more funds unless the worsening security situation there improves.

The officials, attending the joint session of the board of governors of
the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) here, said new
estimates for the reconstruction of Afghanistan call for 30 billion U.S.
dollars — three times the amount estimated at the donors’ conference in
Tokyo last year.

While the officials have tried to put a good face on their meetings here
with U.S and European counterparts, they admit they are having a hard time
paying even the current bills.

Afghanistan’s budget for this fiscal year, which started in March,
called for about 2 billion dollars, but the country only has 800 million
dollars in its coffers.

The U.S. government has come to the rescue, promising the “immediate”
transfer of 1.2 billion dollars.

But, of that amount only 400 million is immediately available and can be
reprogrammed. The other 800 million dollars needs congressional approval,
which might be hard to get given that President George W Bush is asking for
an additional 20 billion dollars to pay for the cost of the military
operation in Iraq.

Against this backdrop, nearly two years after the Taliban regime was
ousted in U.S.-led military attacks in retaliation for the Sep. 11
terrorist attacks, Afghanistan may well fall into chaos unless the
international community re-commits itself to the country’s reconstruction.

“The need is not just poverty. Yes, we are poor and we have suffered
from not only yeas of war and conflict but drought,” explained the
country’s finance minister and a long-time former ranking official of the
World Bank, Ashraf Ghani.

”But what is needed is attention, and for the world to realise that
investment in Afghanistan is in their own interest,” Ghani said here on

In truth, the donor community has been slow in paying what they promised
in Tokyo, when Afghanistan still hogged the headlines.

Of the 10 billion dollars Afghanistan asked for, only about 4 billion
dollars has actually been paid, almost equally divided between the United
States and the European Union.

The increase in the country’s financial needs means that Afghanistan
needs even more world attention when that is already in short shrift,
activists say.

“In terms of its two key needs, security and reconstruction, we still
think the world community is still trying to do it on the heap and
everything we’ve seen here so far proves that,” said Paul O’Brien,
Kabul-based policy analyst with CARE International.

“In reality Afghanistan was supposed to be about how the international
community can work effectively together in addressing the root causes of
terrorism. They said that there is going to be a new set of rules after
Sep. 11, 2001, and that they would be written in Afghanistan,” he pointed out.

“We have met only about one percent of Afghanistan’s reconstruction
needs,” he added.

O’Brien and others attending the Dubai meetings say that so far, donors
have been reluctant to commit troops to the International Security
Assistance Force (ISAF) that was supposed to restore law and order to the
country — because they do not want their soldiers harmed.

Currently, there are about 5,000 ISAF troops in Afghanistan but they
have primarily remained in the capital, Kabul.

“That means there is one ISAF for every 100,000 Afghans. They are
talking about maybe even quadrupling it. Fine. That would still be one ISAF
for every 25,000 Afghans, compared to the operations in Kosovo where there
was one multinational force for every 50 to 60 people,” O’Brien said.

Afghan officials admit that security concerns and the renewal of drug
trafficking activities have become a serious threat in the years since
November 2001, when the Taliban regime was ousted.

Security threats come from various corners, says an Afghan official who
asked not to be named. “We have gangs and mafias. We have warlords who
continue to wield a lot of power. And then we have narco-traffickers who
again seem to becoming very active,” he told IPS. “Can we control it by
ourselves? Not a chance.”

Crime rate has gone up so much that many non-government groups have
warned they will not take on new reconstruction projects and might even not
finish existing ones.

Central authority is another problem. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s
leader, has in effect become what some sarcastically call “the mayor of
Kabul”, referring to the fact that his government yields little influence
in the rest of the country.

He himself is so frustrated with slow progress in Afghanistan that he
has said he will step down next year.

Afghanistan’s share of world opium production went from 12 percent in
2001 to 76 percent in 2002 alone, according to CARE International figures.

“There is no escaping from discussing drug production,” Ghani mused
during a press conference in Dubai Tuesday. “I have warned several times
about dangers of narco-criminals. If it is happening, it is not because we
are turning a blind eye to it.”

He and others says without restoring security throughout the country,
the problem will likely linger.

But not all is bleak, argue others, such as World Bank officials.

“There are things going on that are visible and there are things going
on that are invisible,” said Alastair McKechnie, World Bank’s country chief
for Afghanistan. “These successes are spread throughout the country, but
they don’t always get media attention.”

Among others, he and Ghani point out, the fact is that the country’s
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 30 percent in 2002.

They add that despite the drought that threatens the livelihood of many,
agriculture revenue has increased and various individual reconstruction
efforts are undergoing throughout the country. (END/IPS/

“Other News” is a personal initiative seeking to provide information that should be in the media but is not, because of commercial criteria. It welcomes contributions from everybody. Work areas include information on global issues, north-sutrh relations, gobernability of globalization. The “Other News” motto is a phrase which appeared on the wall of Barcelona’s old Customs Office, at the beginning of 2003:â€?What walls utter, media keeps silentâ€?. Roberto Savio

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