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Afghanistan: President Showcases Recent Successes To Plead For More International Funding

By Ahto Lobjakas

Afghan President Hamid Karzai used a keynote speech before the European Parliament in Strasbourg today to appeal to the international community to continue funding his country's development. Speaking a day after the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, Karzai likened Afghanistan's needs to those of Europe at the end of that war. He highlighted his country's successes in the past few years and promised a quick decrease in the cultivation of opium poppies in Afghanistan -- much of which reaches Europe after being processed into heroin.

Brussels, 10 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Hamid Karzai used his first visit to the European Parliament to launch an appeal for continued international aid comparable to the U.S.-funded Marshall Plan that helped get Western Europe on its feet after World War II.

"Afghanistan, ladies and gentlemen, is as much in need of your help today as Europe was 60 years ago," Karzai said. "Then, a long-term commitment from your friends around the world gave you the support you needed to rebuild your countries, your lives. Today, we're asking for that same opportunity -- and thank you for what you've done already."

Karzai praised EU assistance so far, but clearly appeared worried it may slacken in the future as the country's needs grow less urgent.

Prior to a second donors conference for Afghanistan in Berlin in 2004, Karzai put his country's total need over the following seven years at $27.5 billion dollars. Afghanistan then received pledges of $8.2 billion over three years.

The Marshall Plan netted Western European countries the equivalent of 3 percent of their GDP between 1948-50 and played a crucial role in their recovery.

Karzai did not say today how much he thinks Afghanistan will need.

Karzai gave a glowing account of the progress achieved in Afghanistan since the ousting of the Taliban regime in 2001 by U.S.-led forces.

He said the presidential elections last fall marked a dramatic triumph in the war against terrorism that had ensued, inaugurating a "new era" of human rights and the rule of law.

"The first presidential elections in our history [were] held last October, in which more than 8 million people participated," said Karzai. "The success of the election spelled, in a graphic manner, the defeat of terrorism in Afghanistan. In particular, the massive participation by the women of Afghanistan -- 42 percent of the national turnout -- demonstrated emphatically that a new era of social and political rights for women had arrived."

Karzai also praised Afghanistan's new "enlightened and progressive" constitution, which he said safeguards human rights as well as the equality between men and women.

He also pledged that at least 37 percent of the new parliament to be elected later this year will be made up of women.

Karzai highlighted the role of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in stabilizing the country, saying it had provided a "secure environment" for people to exercise their political rights. This refers to a heightened ISAF presence during the elections, although the ISAF-manned Provincial Reconstruction Teams currently only operate in the north and west of the country.

Karzai said that Afghanistan has, with international assistance, trained a new police force of 50,000 men, and an unspecified number of counternarcotics agents. He said the Afghan National Army now numbers 20,000 troops, while half of the country's estimated 100,000 militia members have been disarmed and more than 95 percent of all heavy weaponry confiscated.

Karzai also praised reforms in the judiciary, civil services, media, trade, and the economy. However, he stressed that many challenges remain, as Afghanistan still ranks the fifth least developed country in the world.

In a nod to an issue of particular European interest, Karzai said the fight against opium-poppy cultivation will speed up in the coming months and years. Afghanistan is the source of most of the heroin that reaches Europe.

Karzai said poppies offered a relatively easier livelihood for Afghan farmers during insecure times than traditional crops. He predicted that poppy growing will decrease as security and stability grows.

"Last year, we began action against poppy cultivation and we saw that people responded because people have now a better hope for tomorrow, a better hope for the future -- they're more confident of their country and of themselves," said Karzai. "We hope that there'll be a considerable reduction in the poppy cultivation this year in Afghanistan -- a great part of it a voluntary reduction."

But again, Karzai emphasized, international assistance is needed to fund the shift of Afghan farmers to alternative livelihoods.

He stressed that Afghanistan is once again looking for long-term, "multiyear" pledges from the United Nations, the United States, Japan, and Europe.

Karzai will later this month travel to Washington to seek what agencies describe as "special" long-term security ties, as well as continued funding beyond the 2.2 billion dollars the U.S. pledged at the Berlin conference last year.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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