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Afghanistan: Berlin Donors Conference To Focus On Reconstruction, Security, And Drugs Trade

A two-day donors conference for Afghanistan opens tomorrow in Berlin. Representatives from more than 50 countries and 11 international organizations are due to attend. Afghanistan's political future, security issues and efforts to curb the drug trade will be discussed. The Afghan government also will present a reconstruction plan that includes a request for $4.5 billion in aid this year.

Prague, 30 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- In Berlin, the Afghan government is expected to call for more than $27 billion in foreign aid over the next seven years to secure its stability after more than a quarter-century of conflict.

According to Afghan Finance Minister Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the aid will "lift Afghans from dire poverty to poverty with dignity."

But the two-day Berlin conference, which begins tomorrow, is not focused solely on international aid to the war-ravaged country.

Afghan Reconstruction Minister Mir Mohammad Amin Farhang told RFE/RL's Afghan Service that the country's political process, as well as security issues, will be discussed during the meeting. "The first part is about political developments and the political reconstruction of Afghanistan. In this part, the progress of the Bonn agreement will be discussed and also our plans for the future," he said. "In the second part, the economic reconstruction of Afghanistan will be discussed. In this regard, the Afghan government will highlight its projects and priorities, and it will also ask the international community to make new commitments. And finally, in the last part, which is devoted to security and the fight against drugs, the Afghan government will present its views, progress [it has made in curbing opium production] and future plans to the conference."

"We are optimistic about this conference because the world is very interested in Afghanistan and the ongoing political process in the country, especially the adoption of the constitution which has had a positive impact and we can use this positive experience in other areas."
The first donors conference on Afghanistan was held in Tokyo in January 2002. Donors pledged $4.5 billion for five years. Most of that money was channeled through international organizations. In Berlin, the Afghan government will ask that funds go directly through the central government.

The Berlin meeting -- which is being chaired jointly by Afghanistan, the United Nations, Japan, and Germany -- is aimed at reaching a consensus on what needs to be done to follow up the Bonn agreement of 2001. That agreement established a road map and a timetable for establishing peace and security, reconstructing the country, and establishing key institutions.

More than two years after the signing of the Bonn agreement, Afghanistan can point to successes, including a new constitution adopted in January.

But there have been setbacks, too. Presidential and legislative elections are now scheduled for September, after originally being set for June. Security concerns and voter registration problems prompted the delay. The UN's special envoy to Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, says the extra time will allow more time for NATO to expand its peacekeeping operations beyond Kabul in time for the poll.

Warlords and factional commanders are in control of many of the country's provinces. Several aid workers have been killed in recent months. And two weeks ago, violence broke out in the western province of Herat after the Afghan aviation minister -- the son of provincial Governor Ismail Khan -- was assassinated.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stresses in a new report that Afghanistan's political future and the rebuilding of the country depend on the success of steps aimed at enhancing security. Manoel de Almeida e Silva, the UN's chief spokesman in Kabul, told RFE/RL: "In the report, the secretary-general says that elections, reconstruction, human rights, and the building of state institutions depend on the success of initiatives aiming at strengthening security, such as the expansion of [the International Security Assistance Force], the deployment of additional Provisional Reconstruction Teams, and accelerated efforts towards the strengthening the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. "

The Afghan government has vowed to disarm and reintegrate some 40,000 militiamen by June, but so far only some 6,000 soldiers have been demobilized.

The government will present a report at the Berlin conference titled "Securing Afghanistan's Future." The report describes the $27 billion in aid requested by Afghanistan as an investment by the international community in stability and peace building. The aim of the Afghan government is to boost the current per capita annual income from less than $200 to $500 by 2015.

The UN and the International Monetary Fund have warned that Afghanistan risks becoming a "narco-mafia" state. Opium production and drug trafficking now account for more than 30 percent of Afghanistan's economy.

On Monday, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) appealed for $60 million to help stimulate Afghanistan's rural economy so that farmers are deterred from turning to opium production for income. According to the FAO, Afghanistan this year will have a record poppy harvest. Last year, Afghanistan produced three-quarters of the world's opium.

Countries neighboring Afghanistan are expected to make a joint pledge in Berlin to fight drug trafficking through their territories.

Ahead of the Berlin conference, Afghan Reconstruction Minister Farhang expressed hope that the international community will stay committed to helping Afghanistan thought its transition toward democracy. "We are optimistic about this conference because the world is very interested in Afghanistan and the ongoing political process in the country, especially the adoption of the constitution which has had a positive impact and we can use this positive experience in other areas," he said.

UN officials have urged donor countries not to forget Afghanistan. And a new report by CARE International and the Center on International Cooperation at New York University urges the international community to do more to avoid Afghanistan becoming a failed state. "While the price tag for a more stable Afghanistan may appear high," the report says, "it is nothing compared to the potentially astronomical costs of failure."

(Correspondent Qader Habib of RFE/RL's Afghan Service contributed to this report.)