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26 March 2004

Global Community to Reaffirm Long-Term Commitment to Afghanistan

Sixty-five delegations to attend Berlin conference March 31-April 1

By Berta Gomez
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The coming donors conference for Afghanistan should help reassure Afghans of the international community's long-term commitment to their future, says Ambassador William Taylor, U.S. State Department coordinator for Afghanistan.

The meeting, scheduled for March 31-April 1 in Berlin, "is a real opportunity for the international community to get together and reaffirm its commitment to the future of Afghanistan, the successful development of Afghanistan's economy, its political future and improvements in security," Taylor told reporters in Washington March 26.

Taylor reiterated U.S. plans to stay in Afghanistan "for as long as it takes." Secretary of State Colin Powell will likely "make it very clear in Berlin that the Americans are there [in Afghanistan] for the long haul," he said.

Financial aid pledges for Afghanistan will top the agenda, Taylor said, noting that current estimates place the country's needs for this fiscal year at $3 billion to $4 billion. The United States is providing $2.2 billion in 2004, covering more than half of that total. Raising the additional funds "will be a challenge," Taylor said, "but this is what we're focused on."

Taylor said the United States and other donors are basically content with the Afghan government's economic and political reforms to date: "The donors, in general, have been satisfied that the normal conditions that apply to recipient nations are being met," he said.

Early indications from other donors are "pretty good" in that most countries will be able to maintain -- or even increase -- their aid levels for Afghanistan, Taylor said.

He also commented on the especially difficult issue of whether Russia should forgive its financial claims on Afghanistan. The situation is complicated by legal hurdles and Afghanistan's own financial claims on Russia, he said.

"There are actually claims on both sides," Taylor said in response to a reporter's question. "These are controversial, complicated, longtime claims; the documentation on these claims is old and hard to come by."

The United States has suggested that Russia and Afghanistan negotiate an agreement forgiving each other's debt entirely.

"Our recommendation is both sides wipe out the debt, wipe out the claims on either side," Taylor said.

Russia and Afghanistan are expected to broach debt-related issues during the Berlin conference, and the United States has offered to facilitate negotiations on the topic, he said. "We hope [the talks in Berlin] are fruitful, but this is really a decision and a discussion -- and a negotiation, probably -- between Russians and Afghans," he said.

The ambassador said he also expects Afghan leaders to present donors with a "workplan" setting out proposed short- and long-term milestones for reconstruction and reform, possibly including plans for presidential and parliamentary elections.

"If President [Hamid] Karzai announces the dates for the elections, the donors will be very appreciative," Taylor said, adding that the United States would support elections in September as Karzai has already suggested.

"This is [Karzai's] decision. The constitution requires him to establish a date for the elections within [a six-month period] and he will meet that requirement," he said.

Taylor described the preparations for Afghan elections as "daunting." Logistical challenges include the need to register 9-10 million voters and to purchase ballot boxes and vehicles for voter registration teams. Taylor said, however, that the United Nations -- which would play a leading role -- "says it's up to this challenge, and we are going to help them."

Other election-related challenges include the need for reliable population estimates for some districts in Afghanistan and questions regarding district boundaries in certain provinces, Taylor said.

Security is an additional hurdle, given that elements in Afghanistan and surrounding countries have made clear their opposition to elections, Taylor said. Election opponents include partisans of the former Taliban government and members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, he said.

"They have made threats against these elections, but so far they've not been able to stop the registration," he said.

He noted that the international community has divided up responsibilities for helping Afghan reconstruction. In addition to the "significant" contribution of the United Nations, Italy has taken the lead on judicial reform, Germany on police training, the British on counter-drug programs, Japan on de-militarization and the United States on army training.

"But it's really a team effort," Taylor said. To illustrate, he said the British are helping the Afghan government launch a drug eradication program "in a week or two" while the United States is supporting a "parallel" eradication project for opium poppies that are ready to harvest right now.

On the continued flow of illegal drugs from Afghanistan, Taylor said the Afghan government recognizes that failure to control the problem will likely destabilize the country. "We recognize that, too, and we're going to help them," he said.

Despite the many challenges facing Afghanistan, the ambassador presented a favorable view of the progress made to date and offered an optimistic preview of the donors meeting.

"If there is any doubt that the international community has shifted its focus away [from Afghanistan], then this will allay that doubt. This will reaffirm our interest in, commitment to and expectations of success in Afghanistan," he said.

Representatives of about 65 governments and international organizations are expected to attend the Berlin forum, which will be chaired jointly by Afghanistan, the United Nations, Japan and Germany, and hosted by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Foreign Minister Abdullah of Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Colin Powell will head the U.S. delegation to the conference. Organizers expect British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin to attend, along with high-ranking officials from other European Union countries, Japan, Russia, the United Nations and NATO, as well as countries neighboring Afghanistan or otherwise engaged in the region.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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