United States Steps Up Economic Aid to Afghanistan
08 March 2007
New roads create opportunity, expand security, says State's Boucher
Washington – As NATO forces in Afghanistan gear up to confront another Taliban spring offensive, the United States is stepping up parallel economic development efforts to undercut terrorism and drug trafficking, a senior State Department official says.
In March 8 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ambassador Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, discussed the U.S. strategy to help the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai further expand its authority into the ungoverned spaces of southeastern Afghanistan, a topic which also dominated his March 7 appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Central to this effort, Boucher said, is the President Bush's request for an additional $11.8 billion from Congress to accelerate Afghan reconstruction projects and security forces training in 2007-2008.
“The funding request reflects a strategy of extending government and the benefits of government to people throughout the country,” he said.
If approved by Congress, it nearly will double the $14.2 billion in U.S. aid delivered to the country since 2001 and allow implementation of a new six-point U.S. strategy for Afghanistan announced by President Bush February 15. (See related article.)
Boucher said these new funds would support key infrastructure projects, such as building roads, expanding the electricity grid and improving access to clean water in southeast Afghanistan, a strategy that has gone a long way toward stabilizing other parts of the country. But much work remains, he said.
“In the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, Afghanistan was one of the least developed countries in the entire world, and then it went downhill for 25 years,” Boucher said, “A lot of this is not reconstruction, it’s construction.”
Since 2001, he said, the United States has built thousands of kilometers of roads, including a national “ring road” that is nearing completion. He said the road network speeds transport of goods and offers Afghanistan new opportunities for closer integration with its northern neighbors in Central Asia and southward into Pakistan and India.
In the next phase, Boucher said, the United States will partner with the Karzai government to expand road links into provincial capitals, then down into Afghan districts, providing local construction jobs and improved security, as well as setting the stage for further development.
NEW ROADS KEY TO DRUG CONTROL
In addition to promoting security, development and government services, road building is also an essential component of a comprehensive strategy aimed at stemming opium poppy cultivation, which funds militancy and undermines democracy by fueling corruption, Boucher said.
According to Boucher, much of 2006 Afghan opium production, which U.N. estimates credit for 92 percent of the global supply of heroin and related narcotics, was centered in restive southeastern Afghanistan, which was identified as an area of concern in the State Department’s recently released International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. (See related article.)
The experiences of countries such as Turkey, Thailand and Pakistan that have abandoned opium poppy cultivation suggest the process is far more complicated than ordering farmers to grow a different crop, Boucher said. It takes not only time and determination, but also an intensive focus on transforming the rural economy through infrastructure and development.
Thanks to new roads and an Afghan-led campaign of public information, rural development, law enforcement and targeted interdiction, six Afghan provinces are already poppy-free, Boucher said. Eight more may be able to fully stop opium production by the end of 2007.
With electricity, some farmers can expand production of legal crops and others can start new businesses, Boucher said. With roads, area residents can get their goods to market more easily. Some family members can even relocate to cities where they can find work and send money home.
“Roads are how you expand government. Roads are how you fight narcotics. Roads are how you fight the Taliban and the insurgents. Roads are how you give people new economic opportunity, the ability to grow other crops and develop new industries,” he said.
The full text of Boucher’s House prepared remarks submitted to the House Foreign Affairs Committee is available on the State Department Web site.
For more information on U.S. policy, see Rebuilding Afghanistan.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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