PARIS (Reuters) - Donors led by the United States pledged about $20 billion in aid to Afghanistan on Thursday but said Kabul must do far more to fight corruption.
The lion’s share of the assistance, $10.2 billion, was put forward by the United States at a Paris conference that exposed frustrations both at the inefficiency of the Afghan government and the failure of donors themselves to coordinate their aid.
Six-and a half years after U.S.-led forces toppled the Islamist Taliban government, Afghanistan is still grappling with an insurgency, drug trafficking, corruption and poverty.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner initially said the meeting of 68 countries and more than 15 international organisations raised $19.95 billion. He then provided another estimate of $21.416 billion
“Let’s say around 20 (billion dollars),” he said as the meeting ended. “This is a success because we were expecting, in our dreams, around $17 billion.”
While the conference was designed to showcase international support for Afghanistan, it was not clear how much of the money pledged represented fresh contributions, nor how much was in the form of grants or loans.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Afghanistan has made strides since the Taliban’s ouster but she, like many officials at the meeting, “strongly urged” Kabul to clean up corruption and improve its governance.
“We must continue to commit to increasing the effectiveness and coherence of our assistance while ensuring that it reaches Afghans and addresses their most urgent needs,” she said.
“This means successfully fighting corruption, improving accountability and it means Afghan ownership of development,” she said.
Afghanistan asked the donors to help fund a $50 billion five-year development plan and Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the conference that his country needed aid to be better coordinated as well as more help in institution-building to fight corruption.
“The current development process that is marred by confusion and parallel structures undermines institution building,” Karzai said. “While Afghanistan needs large amounts of aid, precisely how aid is spent is just as important.”
Afghanistan depends on aid for 90 percent of its spending. But international donors have fallen behind in paying what they have already pledged, and much of the money goes straight back to donor countries in salaries, purchase of goods and profits.
In Afghanistan, some people responded with skepticism to the donors’ meeting, reflecting the view that vast sums have been wasted because of inept administration and that little has trickled down to ordinary people.
“I haven’t been paid for several months. I have children to feed, salaries are very low there is no control on prices, no good security, no water, no protection,” said Karima Sediqi, a teacher on her way to work in the West of Kabul.
“Young Afghans join the insurgency and Taliban because they don’t have jobs and income.”
More than 12,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan during the past two years and the Islamist Taliban movement has vowed to step up a campaign of suicide bombings to try to break the will of Western nations that have forces in the nation.
More than 60,000 foreign troops in the country are trying to restore stability following the 2001 ouster of the Taliban after it refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, whose al Qaeda group carried out the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.