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Afghanistan: Kabul Surprised, Pleased With Aid Pledges

Some $21 billion in aid pledges were made for Afghanistan at an international donors' conference this week in Paris. RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Breshna Nazari, who covered the conference, discusses the significance of the event and the reaction of Afghan officials to the aid pledges and the concerns that were raised in the French capital.

RFE/RL: What does the Paris donors' conference mean for Afghanistan, and Why is this such an important event for Afghanistan?

Breshna Nazari: Afghanistan's National Development Strategy needs the full support from the international community. I think it is very important for the reconstruction and development of everything in Afghanistan -- like education, like public health, like security, the situation for women, and also human rights in Afghanistan. The donor countries pledged a huge amount of money -- more than $21 billion were pledged by more than 20 countries for rebuilding the war-ravaged country.

RFE/RL: From your conversations with Afghan government officials who attended the conference, what was their reaction to receiving pledges of $21 billion from the international community?

Nazari: They were very surprised. They were very happy about the outcome of the conference. And they were very satisfied with the new pledges made by the international community here in Paris. I talked with Mr. Anwar ul-Haq Ahady, the finance minister of Afghanistan. He was really very happy about the generous donations of the countries for Afghanistan. And he told RFE/RL that they will try their best to eliminate corruption in Afghanistan and also [to push forward with] a rapid reconstruction program in the coming years.

RFE/RL: Officials in Kabul have said that the Afghan National Development Strategy needs more than $50 billion during the next five years to achieve all of its aims. But authorities in Kabul also knew before the Paris conference that they need to raise some of those funds on their own. What solutions does Kabul have to obtain the rest of the funds needed to fully implement the development plans?

Nazari: The National Development Strategy program of Afghanistan needs $51 billion for five years. But Afghan authorities told us that they just need $29 billion for this, and more money will come from the domestic incomes of Afghanistan. Also, they still have some money [that has not been disbursed yet] from the previous years, which came from countries that made pledges for Afghanistan in the past.

RFE/RL: International donors have expressed serious concerns about the inability of the Afghan government to disburse billions of dollars in aid by themselves. On the other hand, there have been complaints that the way of disbursing aid in the past did not allow Kabul to build up its own capacity for disbursements.

Nazari: In Afghanistan's National Development Strategy, they say that they will manage some programs for their capacity building among the government employees. They also told the media that they will try their best to eliminate corruption in Afghanistan, and also to spend the money in better ways -- ways that help the people of Afghanistan who need it. Some of the money will go to the Afghan government through the Finance Ministry. The rest of the money will be spent through [contracts with] international NGOs or international organizations in Afghanistan.

RFE/RL: Critics also have said that too much international aid in the past has been spent by foreign governments on contracts with foreign firms and nongovernmental organizations. But in recent years, new Afghan firms have emerged that could handle some of the reconstruction work. Are there any plans that would ensure that more funds from the latest aid pledges go to contracts with Afghan firms rather than foreign firms?

Nazari: The Afghan trade minister [Amin Arsala] and the Afghan foreign minister [Rangin Dadfar Spanta] said here in Paris that they will manage a program and they will continue a discussion on this issue in Kabul with the donor countries. They hope that they will find a better solution for spending money in Afghanistan in better ways.

Copyright (c) 2008. 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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