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31 March 2004

Afghanistan Welcomes Pledges at Berlin Donors' Conference

Powell says international community will meet its obligations to Afghanistan

By Stephen Kaufman
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani said March 31 he is "delighted" at the international response to Afghanistan's appeals for assistance at a donors' conference in Berlin.

Press reports from Berlin quote Ghani as saying that donors have promised Afghanistan $4.4 billion during the coming year and $8.2 billion during the next three years to support its efforts to become a secure, democratic state.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, leading the U.S. delegation to the two-day conference, said the United States was pledging an additional $1 billion to Afghanistan.

In a press conference with Powell before the conference, Afghan President Hamid Karzai thanked the United States for contributing a total of $2.2 billion dollars for 2004.

"This makes the United States the biggest donor to Afghanistan," Karzai said. He asked Powell to carry a message of "extreme gratitude" back to the people of the United States and President Bush.

For his part, Powell said the conference showed a commitment by the international community to Afghanistan's future and confidence in the Afghan people.

The Afghan people want to live in peace, freedom and democracy, said Powell, and are demonstrating this desire by returning home in the millions after living abroad as refugees and registering to vote in the country's upcoming elections, set for September 2004.

"I just want to assure President Karzai, and through him all Afghans, that the United States views this as a priority mission for us," said Powell.

"NATO views it as their number one priority operational mission. The international community knows its obligations and we will meet those obligations," he said.

At the opening of the conference, President Karzai appealed to donors not to allow his country to become "a haven for drugs and terrorists" and asked for a pledge of $27.5 billion in aid over the next seven years to fund reconstruction and development projects in the country as well as increase security and combat opium poppy cultivation.

"We have a plan for Afghanistan to take our country by the year 2014 to a higher income per capita, a higher state of legitimacy, a direct democracy for our people, and more stability and peace," he told reporters.

Within a decade Afghanistan "will no longer be a burden on the shoulders of the world," he said.

Currently, over half of the country's 18 million people live at or below the poverty level, with 70 percent of the population living on less than $2 per day.

The country has an average life expectancy of 42 years and an infant mortality rate of 257 deaths per 1000 births, one of the highest in the world.

It also produces an estimated 75 percent of the world's opium poppies, generating approximately half of the country's gross domestic product. According to the United Nations, drug revenues amounted to $2.3 billion in 2003.

The BBC reported that an Afghan opium farmer may earn 10 times more than a government soldier or policeman whose job it is to enforce the law against growing the opium poppies.

The conference is looking at ways to support international security forces, led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); to train the Afghan army, police and other law enforcement personnel; and to reduce poppy production through incentives to grow alternative crops.

Afghan Finance Minister Ghani told Reuters that the aid priorities had changed since the first donors' conference was held in Tokyo in January 2002.

"When pledges were made in Tokyo at least half...were for humanitarian purposes," he said. "The key focus of the current pledges is now on reconstruction, good governance and the political process. This marks a very important change."

(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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