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Afghanistan: London Meeting Looks At Next Stage Of Reforms

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (file photo) (epa) Delegates from 70 countries are gathering in London next week (31 January-1 February) for a two-day conference on Afghanistan's future. Organizers say a key document, known as the Afghanistan Compact, will be their focus. It will map out a five-year plan for cooperation between the Afghan government and the international community. The Afghan government also will unveil its development priorities in its National Development Strategy. The event will be jointly chaired by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

PRAGUE, 26 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Jean Arnault, the UN secretary-general's special representative in Afghanistan, describes the Afghanistan Compact as a "remarkable document" forged in consultations between the Afghan government and the international community.

Arnault says the document is a blueprint to ensure that international assistance to Afghanistan is not only maintained, but also improved upon over the next five years.

"Priorities are assigned to energy, road building, agriculture, and the fight against drugs."

Country Building

Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UN's Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), tells RFE/RL the goal is to advance Afghan reforms beyond the provisions laid out in the Bonn Accords of December 2001. "The London Conference itself is the next crucial step with mapping out where we are going with Afghanistan," he said. "Back in 2001, we started off with a meeting in Bonn which began what was known as the Bonn Process. And that set out elections and the various things needed to deal with the first step in the reconstruction process -- and the putting in place of a representative government. The Bonn Process has recently ended, because we had [its final step with] parliament opening here. That's why London is really needed -- to set out the steps forward and to provide a way of ensuring there will be international support over this next crucial five years."

Edwards says one reason the Afghanistan Compact is a step forward from the Bonn Process is that it calls for the Afghan government to have greater independence and control over its development. But Edwards he says the next step after the Bonn Process also means Kabul must take on more responsibility for reform in the years ahead.

"We're hearing all kinds of terms for this [next stage]. In some quarters, we're hearing 'Bonn Two.' In other quarters, it's going to be called the 'London Process.' I think realistically what it is -- this is the stage in rebuilding in which Afghanistan itself, its new government, starts to really take more of a leadership role. In the past four years, there's been a huge effort of the international community to support this government, to build it and develop capacity within it. So over the next few years, we're hoping it will become an Afghanistan Process."

Barnett Rubin is an expert on Afghanistan and director of studies at New York University's Center on International Cooperation. He tells RFE/RL that the Afghanistan Compact is fundamentally different from the Bonn Agreement.

Better Governance

"This [Afghanistan Compact] is not just a political agreement," Rubin said. "It isn't just about holding elections and establishing a government. That's what the Bonn Agreement was about. [The Afghanistan Compact] is really about all dimensions of building a state. It's about security. It's about building up better governance, the rule of law and protection of human rights. And it's about economic and social development. And this compact recognizes that these are all interrelated and not one of them can succeed without the other."

Edwards says plans to combat Afghanistan's drug lords also form a vital part of the Afghanistan Compact -- one that is related to all of its other elements. "With counternarcotics, it's [something that cuts across all] issues because it affects so many things and how the economy works," he said. "The money from drugs represents something like 60 percent of [Afghanistan's Gross Domestic Product], with most of the money being made from drugs not going to the farmers here but going to organized crime -- drugs traffickers. So dealing with organized crime is a security issue. Dealing with the economic impact, that cuts across into how do you develop agricultural policies and sustainability."

One issue Kabul has been lobbying for is greater control over the way foreign aid is dispersed in Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah tells RFE/RL that the central government wants more international aid to be channeled directly through the national budget: "Our specific proposal to the international community is this -- that the Afghan government's role in the channeling of foreign aid should be increased dramatically. At the beginning [of the Bonn Process], all aid was channeled through international organizations. This has changed now. But I hope we can get a commitment from the international community [during the London Conference] that considers the positive developments Afghanistan has achieved. We hope there will be a change in the government's role regarding the disbursement of foreign aid."

Afghanistan To Hold The Pursestrings?

Afghan Finance Minister Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi tells RFE/RL that despite recent reforms making Afghanistan's budget more transparent, some donor countries still require better accounting standards from Kabul before their donations can be channeled directly into the Afghan state budget.

"The government of Afghanistan believes that most foreign aid should be channeled through the [Afghan] governmental bodies to the people," he said. "We are going to submit this issue to the London Conference. We think the international community's argument on this issue is not convincing. But unfortunately, some donor countries have legal problems in this regard. For example, the United States is the main donor. But according to their laws, they cannot channel most of their aid through the Afghan government."

But Kabul got support on the issue this week when the World Bank issued a report saying the system for channeling Western aid to Afghanistan is undermining the ability of Karzai's government and damaging the prospects of development.

World Bank economists say donor countries -- including Britain and the United States -- often are engaged in "wasteful projects" beyond the control, and sometimes beyond the knowledge, of the Afghan administration. It recommends that future aid be channeled through Afghan government agencies.

Afghan Economics Minister Amin Farhang tells RFE/RL that such a change would help the Afghan government with its newly drafted plans and priorities -- the so-called National Development Strategy that also will be discussed at the London Conference.

"Basically, all sectors of the economy are important and are included in the National Development Strategy," Farhang said. "However, priorities are assigned to energy, road building, agriculture, and the fight against drugs."

Focus On Infrastructure

Edwards says the focus on emergency humanitarian aid during the past four years came at the expense of some major infrastructure projects -- leading many Afghans to complain about the lack of progress.

"Are people satisfied with the level of progress there has been? I think quite clearly not," Edwards said. "The expectations are very high. It's four years into this process and to a significant degree in some areas there is popular frustration. Still here in Kabul, you are functioning with a few hours of electricity a day. In some parts of the country progress is slow to be seen. I think we have to acknowledge that. There's definitely, in a number of areas, things we would have wanted to do better on. I could mention, for example, the reintegration process of the disarmament program. Or the elections process. We've learned a lot of lessons along the way here."

The Afghanistan Compact also considers the strengthening of the Afghan National Police and reforms within the justice system as areas that require more attention in the future.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah

Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah

Abdullah Abdullah (epa)

Afghan Foreign Minister ABDULLAH ABDULLAH on January 21 spoke by telephone with RFE/RL Afghan Service correspondent Zarif Nazar. Abdullah discussed the most recent videotaped message from Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the current state of the Taliban, terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, and the upcoming London conference on the Afghanistan Compact.

To read the complete interview,click here.