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by Julio Godoy

Most Afghan Aid Goes to Contractors and Consultants

(IPS) -- The international support conference on Afghanistan this week fell short of offering an adequate answer to the multiple problems facing the country.

The conference, organized in Paris Thursday under the umbrella of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and attended by delegations from 68 countries and representatives from 17 international organizations, produced promises of $21 billion in new aid, and a parade of pious vows and soothing speeches.

The conference was officially praised as a success, but it failed to meet the expectations raised by Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the opening of the event.

Karzai presented a $50 billion development plan for the next five years for improving infrastructure, security, education and agriculture. But the donor countries offered less than half that amount. That the U.S. government alone promised 50 percent of the new aid suggests that most other countries' will to pour cash into what many see as a money sink is dwindling.

The lack of enthusiasm could not be concealed beneath the vows of solidarity with what French President Nicolas Sarkozy called "a martyr people."

French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner called the conference "a success" because, he said "at most we dreamt of reaching $17 billion." France itself promised $107 million for 2009-2010 -- that is about the international aid spent presently in Afghanistan in 15 days.

The donors have fallen short of meeting earlier promises. After the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, they pledged $25 billion for the period ending 2008. But only $15 billion was spent in Afghanistan during the last six years -- and not all of it on the kind of aid people really need.

Some of the real dimensions of the Afghan crisis, such as the growing strength of the Taliban in the south, and the opium boom, were not discussed at the gathering.

Despite a $2 billion international program to eradicate poppy from Afghanistan, opium production reached a record 8,200 tons in 2007, according to UN figures.

This represents about 90 percent of the world's opium production. The UN says that at least three million Afghans in a country of 28 million depend on opium for their survival.

These problems were discussed separately at a much smaller seminar organized by the foundation Carnegie Europe. Participants at the seminar made a scathing evaluation of the Afghanistan government.

An Amnesty International spokesperson told IPS that "the Afghan population faces growing insecurity, a prospering trade of opium and heroine, total absence of respect for law and human rights, a judiciary completely inept, a weak government, and endemic corruption."

Daoud Sultanzoy, member of the Afghan parliament, and president of the Afghan commission for the national economy, said at the seminar that "it is not the Taliban who are strong; it is our government which is weak."

Sultanzoy said the biggest Afghan problem is corruption. "Corruption is more dangerous than the Taliban," he told the scholars and politicians attending the seminar. "The country has been kidnapped by nepotism, corruption and mafias."

Ali Jalili, a former Afghan minister of the interior, deplored the lack of coordination in foreign aid. "Everybody does what he likes," he said. "There is no common vision for Afghanistan among the donor countries."

Almost seven years after the invasion that put an end to the Taliban regime in late 2001, Karzai's government has at best control over some urban areas. The Taliban continue to present strong opposition to foreign military forces.

This has eroded popular support within European countries for continuing military engagement in Afghanistan. Germany continues to reject calls for an expansion of its mission in the embattled south, despite repeated calls by the U.S. government. It is concentrating its troops in the more peaceful north.

Opinion polls suggest that about 70 percent of people want to see German troops out of Afghanistan.

Similar popular opposition appears to be emerging in Britain, especially after the death of three young soldiers on Jun. 8 in a suicide attack in the southeast of Afghanistan. Those killings raised the number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan to more than 100.

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Albion Monitor   June 14, 2008   (

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