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Afghanistan: EU Puzzled By Kabul's Call For $45 Billion In Aid

Afghanistan's interim government says rebuilding the war-shattered country will require $45 billion in aid during the next 10 years. That figure is substantially higher than pledges expected at an international donors' conference in Tokyo next week, where the goal is to attract aid for the next five years totaling about $9 billion. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz reports that EU officials in Brussels are puzzled by the discrepancy and are calling for clarification.

Prague, 14 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- An EU spokesman says officials in Brussels are seeking clarification about a call from Afghanistan's interim government for $45 billion in aid during the next 10 years.

Interim Planning Minister Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq announced the aid estimate to journalists in Kabul during the weekend: "For the next 10 years, we estimate that we need $45 billion [in aid]. Some $15 billion [is needed just] for the next two years."

But Gunnar Wiegand, a spokesman for EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten, told RFE/RL today that Brussels is perplexed by Mohaqiq's announcement. Wiegand has called on the interim government to provide more information about Mohaqiq's estimate.

"We do not know where that figure comes from -- the $45 billion over 10 years. It would certainly require clarification on which assessment has been the basis for this and what is the composition of this figure. Does it comprise public and private funds? Does it comprise investment or not?"

Estimates about Afghanistan's need for aid have varied widely in recent weeks. An IMF official in Pakistan said early this month that $10 to $15 billion are needed to rebuild the country during the next five to 10 years.

Joseph Biden, one of nine U.S. senators to visit Kabul last week as part of a bipartisan fact-finding mission, has supported the assessment of the IMF. He also said that the United States would likely contribute $1 to $3 billion toward the total.

But many donor nations have been focusing their attention on an assessment that was drafted jointly by international financial institutions other than the IMF.

Wiegand says it is this joint assessment that has formed the basis of debates in Brussels over plans for long-term reconstruction aid to Afghanistan: "The basis on which we are currently planning and preparing for a European contribution is the 'combined needs assessment' done by the World Bank, United Nations Development Program, and the Asian Development Bank. That [report] talks about a need for reconstruction assistance -- beyond emergency relief and humanitarian assistance -- reconstruction assistance for some $9 billion over the next five years including this one."

Wiegand says the report already has figured largely in the calculation of a target goal of a key donors' conference for Afghanistan scheduled to take place in Tokyo on 21-22 January: "We are talking here about a pledging conference in Tokyo where the [international] target is to raise some $9 billion over five years. That is on the basis of the 'needs assessment' undertaken by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and UNDP. This is not an EU contribution. This is a [goal for the total] international contribution."

Wiegand said it is too early to announce exactly how much the EU would contribute for long-term reconstruction during the Tokyo conference. But he said he expects almost all of the money pledged in Tokyo to come from public funds -- that is, money directly from states or from international financial institutions rather than private donations or investment.

"It is on the basis [of the $9 billion goal] that we are currently making an effort to get a sizeable share organized from the European Union combined from the community budget under the responsibility of the commission and individual bilateral member state contributions."

The European Commission is due to discuss the issue of fresh EU aid disbursements to Afghanistan tomorrow (Tuesday). The EU's Council of Ministers and the European Parliament also are discussing the issue this week.

Until Brussels gets clarification from Kabul, EU officials directly involved in aid programs for Afghanistan can only speculate about why Kabul's latest call for aid is nearly three times more than the assessment for the Tokyo conference.

James Gilbert, who is in charge of an EU unit that provides aid to Afghanistan, told RFE/RL from his office in Brussels today that part of the discrepancy could be explained by rapid changes in the exchange rate for Afghanistan's national currency -- the Afghani.

Gilbert noted that initial estimates for emergency aid to Kabul rose significantly after the collapse of the Taliban regime because confidence in Afghanistan's national currency increased. "The Afghani has strengthened considerably against the U.S. dollar. The sums are being done in Afghanis and then converted into dollars. So the dollar sums keep going up. I know that the sums of initial contributions to get the interim administration up and running suddenly got out of all proportion, as it were."

Since the beginning of last year, the European Union has allocated a total of $57 million for aid to Afghanistan. That figure includes support for humanitarian operations as well as funds for the new interim government. It does not include the cost for the involvement of EU states in the military operations against the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda network within Afghanistan.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that the effort to rebuild Afghanistan will need involvement from countries across the world.

"All of us know that the international community must be prepared to sustain a reconstruction program that will take many, many years. This must be a global effort involving East Asia, Europe, the Americas, the Islamic world, and countries of the region. And we must achieve seamless connections between reconstruction and relief and development efforts."

Powell, who is due to attend the donor's conference in Tokyo, said recently that Afghanistan will need some $8 billion in reconstruction aid during the next five years.