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Afghanistan: Donors Conference Focuses On Security

The second and closing day of the Berlin donors conference on Afghanistan is focusing today on security issues.

Prague, 1 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- More than two years after the fall of the Taliban, insecurity remains a main challenge facing the Afghan government. The factional leaders or commanders who are in control of many of the country's provinces do not recognize the authority of the central government, the Afghan Transitional Administration. And drug production is increasing.

The UN has stated that Afghanistan's political future and the reconstruction process depends on the success of steps aimed at enhancing security in the country.

A declaration due to be issued at the summit foresees an increase in the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and the sending of additional multinational troops to secure the presidential and parliamentary elections due to be held in September. The elections, originally set for June, were delayed because of security concerns and low voter registration.

Today in Berlin, Afghanistan and its six neighbor states signed a regional cooperation agreement to step up the fight against the drug trade.

The agreement was formally signed by representatives of Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The accord envisages tighter border controls and information exchange to help fight the cultivation, production, and trafficking of drugs.

Amin Tarzi, RFE/RL regional analyst for Afghanistan, says this is the first agreement focused solely on the fight against drugs that has been signed by Afghanistan and its neighbors.

"An agreement was signed in December 2002 between the same countries, Afghanistan and its six neighbors. It was dubbed as the Kabul declaration. It basically talked about noninterference into Afghanistan's affairs by those six countries, but it did have a section dealing on the trafficking of narcotics across the Afghan borders to those countries. So, in that sense, this is not a new agreement. However, it is a new agreement in the sense that it deals only with the issue of drugs, whether this is a new approach, basically, we have to see what will happen -- whether it’s only on paper and it happens just because of the Berlin donors conference or [whether] there is actually more substance to it," Tarzi said.

Afghanistan is the biggest producer of opium in the world. Drug traffickers use the neighboring countries as drug transit routes to Europe and the Gulf states.

Tarzi added: "In some cases, there has been some better cooperation specifically between Afghanistan and Pakistan and Afghanistan and Iran. On the Central Asian aspects, there is not much information so, hopefully, this will actually pave the way to [better] preventive measures against trafficking of drugs from the northern parts of Afghanistan."

On the first day of the conference, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai warned that the drug trade is threatening Afghanistan's very existence as a state.

"Drugs in Afghanistan are undermining the very existence of the Afghan state. Nobody wants to be called a drug dealer, especially not a nation. We would pride ourselves on the fruit production that we have, we would pride ourselves on lots of other forms of agriculture that we have, and here I would request the international community to help us fight it and to help us create alternative livelihoods for our people," Karzai said.

UN officials have also warned against the danger of Afghanistan turning into a failed "narco-mafia" state.

Yesterday, the donor countries pledged $8.2 billion in aid over the next three years.

Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani said $4.4 billion in aid had been promised for this year alone. "This is 100 percent of our target," he told a news conference. Ghani also said that $1 billion a year of the aid money would be spent on enhancing security in the country.

The biggest contributor is the United States. Washington has offered $1 billion in addition to the $1.2 billion it had already committed for this year.

However, the promised aid at the conference fell short of what the Afghan government had hoped for in the long term.

Karzai called for $27 billion in international aid over the next seven years to secure the stability of Afghanistan and make the country self-sufficient.

The Berlin conference was attended by the representatives of more than 50 countries, including top officials such as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.