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Afghanistan: Donor Pledges In Paris Unlikely To Pay For Development Plan

  • Ron Synovitz --> President Hamid Karzai (AFP) For weeks, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has hinted at doubts among international donors over the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, a plan to rebuild the country that was devised at the 2006 London Conference.

The doubts are surfacing as pressure from Western countries for Kabul to trim down the development plan's $50 billion price tag ahead of a Paris donors' conference due to open on June 12.

Michael Shaik, a research analyst with the International Crisis Group's Asia Program, tells RFE/RL that donor concerns are to be expected with a development plan in which the goals have not been adequately prioritized.

Shaik says that there are "doubts about the viability" of the strategy, and concern "that there may be too many priorities. It's a case of 'everything is a priority so nothing is a priority.' So it is not surprising that there are doubts being voiced at the highest levels of government."

Indeed, some donors have suggested that the Afghan plan does not adequately coordinate development projects. But Richard Boucher, the U.S. assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs, told reporters in Washington on June 10 that corruption in Kabul has also worried donors.

"Corruption is a very -- it's a serious problem in Afghanistan," Boucher said. "It's something that needs to be dealt with. The Afghan government knows they need to deal with it. They've tried various measures in the past. There are a number of steps on improving governance, improving government audit capabilities, improving appointments, improving fiscal integrity, you might say, and the financial management of government money, that have already been taken and more that are being taken."

Shaik says Washington's concerns about corruption and Kabul's financial capacity only tell part of the story. "Neither the international community -- primarily the Western donor community -- nor the Afghans have lived up to many of their commitments over the past six or seven years in Afghanistan. The Afghan government could definitely be doing more to stem corruption," he says.

"The international community -- particularly the Western donor community -- hasn't lived up to its commitments on getting money into Afghanistan," Shaik adds. "You can see how these problems have been compounded. And that's one of the reasons why Afghanistan is still not on its feet after seven years of what is probably the most significant international collaborative effort the world has ever seen."

Working With Afghanistan

Assistant Secretary of State Boucher admits that more and more capable Afghan firms are able to take on development projects as contractors. He says Washington has to adjust to that reality and move more in that direction -- transferring more money through "capable Afghan ministries" and dispersing more funds that are administered and spent through the Afghan government.

Shaik says such moves by donors will help Kabul improve its financial capacity. He says that while donors' concerns about the "high levels of corruption" are "valid," "there are ways around this [such as] putting more checks and balances on the Afghan government in order to funnel money through to build capacity. So the Afghans can learn how to manage their own economy and their own finances. The more that money is funneled through specific NGOs and other institutions, the less the government [in Kabul] is actually able to learn about how to do this itself."

At the same time, Christopher Langton, the head of defense analysis at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, says that domestic politics within both Afghanistan and donor countries will result in donors being "fairly tough" on Karzai when they make their aid pledges this week in Paris.

"We are moving into an election year whereby President Karzai's future is to be decided. So he will be presenting a significant document asking for donations of several billion dollars in addition to that which has already been given," Langton says.

"The second thing is that we are within five years now of the end of the end of the Afghanistan Compact" signed in London in 2006, he notes. "Governments from donor countries in increasing numbers are going into their own electoral phases leading up to the end of that period in 2011. And so the debate at a domestic political level in several key donor countries on Afghanistan -- and on the continuing support to Afghanistan -- is growing."

Meanwhile, nongovernmental organizations are calling for donors in Paris to put more pressure on Kabul over rights abuses in Afghanistan that result from corruption, warlordism, and the growing power of drug barons.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has identified women's rights, freedom of expression, impunity, transitional justice, judicial reform, and abolition of the death penalty as key issues requiring "serious attention and reform."
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