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13:00, Green Park, London

The skepticism of journalists and other observers doesn't get a free pass at Green Park. Some of the conference participants with on-the-ground-experience in Afghanistan speak with hard-earned authority about the progress that is being made, despite setbacks and widespread misperceptions.

I run into Mark Ward, special adviser on development for the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, as he moves between television interviews in the tent. He acknowledges challenges such as looming and counterproductive deadlines. ("To expect that we can turn over programs next year is unrealistic," he says). But Ward thinks gains in Afghanistan's governance have been underrated. "I don't see corruption in the ministries I work with," he says. "In the development area, we haven't had corruption scandals."

It's particularly unfortunate, Ward says, that the Afghan government gets blamed for mismanaged programs that the Afghan government doesn't run. Because the graft often associated with such programs is charged to the central government, international donors become even more leary about giving it money.

Such misperceptions make it even harder to achieve what Ward believes is necessary for eventual success: first, that the Afghan government takes the lead in designing and running development programs, and, second, that the international community then generously funds them.

Ward doesn't believe it's all hot air when Karzai speaks about the need for job-creation: "He understands that's the only way to draw away the Taliban, at least the ones that can be drawn away."

-- Jay Tolson

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