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Afghanistan: Nations Pledge $3 Billion At Tokyo Conference

A two-day donors conference to aid post-Taliban Afghanistan opened this morning in Tokyo. Donor countries and multilateral organizations have so far pledged around $3 billion to rebuild the country, a task that aid experts say will ultimately require some $15 billion over the next 10 years.

Prague, 21 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened the Afghan donors conference in Tokyo today by expressing hope that $10 billion will be raised during the two-day meeting. He said that amount alone will probably be needed in the next five years to help Afghanistan recover from more than two decades of civil strife.

Annan said Afghanistan now has new hope.

"Today in Afghanistan a window of opportunity is opening. Through it, we can see a country drawing back from the brink of devastation."

Interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai today urged international donors to respond quickly to Afghanistan's needs, warning that without help, the country could slip into instability again.

Karzai told delegates from some 60 nations attending the conference that prompt delivery of aid is essential to maintain the credibility, and efficacy, of his interim administration.

"Our vision is of a prosperous, secure Afghanistan. We are marching ahead with the objectives of building a credible state with an efficient and transparent government."

Karzai also asked the nations represented to forgive all debts accumulated under previous Afghan regimes. He promised to focus his administration's attention on eradicating corruption and safeguarding a market economy. He said his government has set five reconstruction priorities: health, education, infrastructure, a functioning administration, and re-establishment of a sound currency. He also gave his backing to education for girls and to efforts to stop the production of poppies and the trade in heroin.

Yesterday, Karzai urged representatives of the world's non-governmental organizations gathered in Tokyo to help the Afghans help themselves.

"Help us begin a new life. Help us stand again on our feet to make a country that will preserve its own values and tradition and that will also contribute to the world community in terms of providing better peace and work against terrorism."

Western news agencies quote UN officials in Afghanistan as saying at least 700,000 people face starvation and exposure to bitter winter weather in the country.

Estimates released last week (15 January) by a needs assessment team of the UN Development Program, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank show that about $5 billion will be needed in the near term to fund Afghan stabilization measures, including the elimination of land mines and the revival of the country's devastated agricultural sector, and $10 billion over five years.

The bulk of the funds required for the country's reconstruction is coming from the conference's four co-hosts -- the United States, Japan, the European Union, and Saudi Arabia -- and the rest from smaller governments and aid organizations.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Washington will provide $296 million to Afghanistan this year.

"And so I will go right to the bottom line -- on behalf of the United States, I am pleased to announce that the American people will give $296 million from this fiscal year to the Afghan people for the reconstruction of their society and their nation."

But Powell said the goal of the conference is more than just financial aid.

"Our shared goal is to help the Afghan people rebuild a politically stable, economically viable, secure Afghanistan, an Afghanistan where terrorism and traffickers can never again flourish."

The U.S., however, may be unlikely to commit to five years of funding. American officials are arguing that, having shouldered the costs of the military campaign to oust the Taliban and rout the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, the U.S. expects other countries to pay the bulk of the reconstruction costs.

Japan pledged $500 million over the next two and a half years, of which half will be disbursed in the first year. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tokyo's aid will focus on the resettlement of refugees, improving education and health care, the empowerment of women, and the removal of land mines.

Japan's pledge was matched by the European Union, which also offered almost $500 million for this year, with an additional $384 million over the next five years, depending on the contributions of member states. Britain said it will fund 20 percent of the European Union pledge and that it will donate $288 million over five years in addition to its EU contribution. The funds are mainly earmarked for reconstruction and humanitarian assistance.

Saudi Arabia said it will give $220 million over three years in humanitarian and emergency assistance. While Riyadh has granted Afghanistan billions of dollars in aid over the past 20 years, its purse strings might be tighter now, a Saudi diplomatic source warned last week. Said the official: "Saudi Arabia is passing through some financial difficulty due to lower oil revenues and larger public debt."

India pledged $100 million, while Australia said it will contribute $40 million.

As for international institutions, the World Bank proposed $500 million over the next 30 months, with an added $50 to $70 million in immediate grants. It stressed the need to use these funds for removing land mines, for improving the country's infrastructure, education, health care, energy, and communications sectors.