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Afghanistan: Kabul Satisfied With London Conference Results

Kabul's city center (official site) The London Conference on Afghanistan's future ended on 1 February with all the signs that it had achieved what organizers hoped. Participating countries pledged $10.5 billion in new reconstruction aid and to strengthen hobbled institutions in Afghanistan. But the conference also appears to have shifted a greater burden for the country's fate to the Afghan government -- and turned more attention to the plight of ordinary Afghans.

LONDON, 2 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- If the London Conference opened in an atmosphere of cautious optimism, it arguably concluded on a higher note.

Afghan Finance Minister Anwar ul-Haq Ahady welcomed the international community's engagement and its pledges of support at the two-day gathering.

"We have been heartened by the kind of support we have received in more returns since yesterday, and we are very much impressed with the kind of support we have received in pledges in the past two days," Ahady said.

Ahady also tried to dispel concerns that donor countries have not lived up to their pledges of aid.

"I am pleased to say that, actually, almost all of our donors who have pledged [in the past], they have delivered on their pledge," Ahady said. "This is a misperception that money was promised and it was not delivered."

Vote Of Confidence?

Wahidullah Shahrani, Afghanistan's deputy finance minister and an economic adviser to President Hamid Karzai, stressed after its conclusion that the conference represented an international vote of confidence in the Afghan central government.

"We are very satisfied with the outcome of this important conference for two main reasons. The first is that the international community recognized during this conference that the government of Afghanistan is in a position to take the ownership and to come with the initiative, and would lead the nation to determine and implement its development strategy," Shahrani said.

Shahrani also emphasized the conference's commitment to back his government's National Development Strategy, which sets out plans for ensuring security, governing more effectively, and safeguarding citizens' rights.

Shahrani echoed vows from other Afghan officials to devote greater attention and resources to improving the lives of ordinary Afghans He also highlighted recent achievements in the continuing effort to recover after decades of war.

"Right now, we have got 6 million children back to the schools; almost 75 percent of the people across the country have got access to basic health services," Shahrani said. "We have completed a number of key highway or road projects. They will create opportunities for economic activities. We have an agreement with the Asian Development Bank that we can bring electricity from Uzbekistan."

Welcoming Aid

Shukria Barakzai is another member of the Afghan delegation to the London Conference and a member of Afghanistan's new national parliament. She secretly educated women when such education was banned under the hard-line Taliban regime, and said on 1 February that the aid flowing from the conference would do wonders for her country.

"Really it's more than enough, I think. It's a big help for Afghanistan," Barakzai said. "As an Afghan, I am very happy it can transform our country, and of course, the agenda and the arguments was very useful. It's made our government to be more active."

Barakzai said the structure of the Karzai administration's National Development Strategy will make the government more accountable and foster closer coordination with the international community.

Barakzai said top-down improvements to the justice system and law enforcement are important. But she added that the country's long-suffering population needs to see visible improvements like new roads and schools.

"[People's] priorities, it's something normal: security, peace process, democratic process, and, of course, the schools, roads, shelter, factories. That's all very important," Barakzai said. "That's the Afghan people's needs. We need a new map, we need a new timetable, we need a new policy. The parliament also is working as a kind of observer for law."

...But Should Countries Do More?

But even as delegates to the London Conference dispersed and headed for home, at least one voice emerged to suggest that the international community is not doing enough for Afghanistan.

Fazel Beria is from the Afghan Association of London and has represented Afghanistan in international negotiations. He said that if measured by what Afghanistan has done for the world, the aid has been insufficient.

"The world was an unsafe place with all of those terrorist camps in Afghanistan, with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government. Now they are not there," Beria said. "And if the Afghan people are participating with the world to destroy those bases, we are actually contributing much, much more to the world [by] providing security, and in return we are getting very little."

Beria suggested that even a "little" more could make an enormous difference.

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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