by Peyman Pejman
(IPS) DUBAI --
officials say they need three times as much as previously estimated to rebuild their country in the coming years, but analysts here say that the world is unlikely to commit more funds unless the worsening security situation there improves.
Afghan officials admit that increased fighting in the countryside between Taliban hardliners and the fledgling Afghan army and U.S. advisers plus the renewal of drug trafficking have become a serious threat in the years since November 2001, when the Taliban regime was ousted.
Security threats come from various corners, says an Afghan official who asked not to be named.
"We have gangs and mafias. We have warlords who continue to wield a lot of power. And then we have narco-traffickers who again seem to becoming very active," he told IPS. "Can we control it by ourselves? Not a chance."
The crime rate has gone up so much that many non-government groups have warned they will not take on new reconstruction projects and might even not finish existing ones. The officials, attending the joint session of the board of governors of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) here, said new estimates for the reconstruction of Afghanistan call for $30 billion -- three times the amount estimated at the donors' conference in Tokyo last year.
While the officials have tried to put a good face on their meetings here with U.S. and European counterparts, they admit they are having a hard time paying even the current bills.
Afghanistan's budget for this fiscal year, which started in March, called for about $2 billion, but the country only has $800 million in its coffers.
The U.S. government has said it wouldcome to the rescue, promising the "immediate" transfer of $1.2 billion.
But, of that amount only $400 million is immediately available and can be reprogramd. The other $800 million needs congressional approval, which might be hard to get given that President George W Bush is asking for an additional $20 billion to pay for the cost of the military operation in Iraq. Against this backdrop, nearly two years after the Taliban regime was ousted in U.S.-led military attacks, Afghanistan may well fall into further chaos unless the international community re-commits itself to the country's reconstruction.
"The need is not just poverty. Yes, we are poor and we have suffered from not only years of war and conflict but drought," explained the country's finance minister and a long-time former ranking official of the World Bank, Ashraf Ghani.
"But what is needed is attention, and for the world to realise that investment in Afghanistan is in its own interest," Ghani said here on Monday. In truth, the donor community has been slow in paying what they promised in Tokyo, when Afghanistan still hogged the headlines.
Of the $10 billion Afghanistan asked for, only about $4 billion has actually been paid, almost equally divided between the United States and the European Union.
The increase in the country's financial needs means that Afghanistan needs even more world attention when that is already in short shrift, activists say.
"In terms of its two key needs, security and reconstruction, we still think the world community is still trying to do it on the heap and everything we've seen here so far proves that," said Paul O'Brien, Kabul-based policy analyst with CARE International.
"In reality Afghanistan was supposed to be about how the international community can work effectively together in addressing the root causes of terrorism. They said that there is going to be a new set of rules after Sept. 11, 2001, and that they would be written in Afghanistan," he pointed out.
"We have met only about one percent of Afghanistan's reconstruction needs," he added.
O'Brien and others attending the Dubai meetings say that so far, donors have been reluctant to commit troops to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that was supposed to restore law and order to the country -- because they do not want their soldiers harmed.
Currently, there are about 5,000 ISAF troops in Afghanistan but they have primarily remained in the capital, Kabul.
"That means there is one ISAF soldier for every 100,000 Afghans. They are talking about maybe even quadrupling it. Fine. That would still be one ISAF for every 25,000 Afghans, compared to the operations in Kosovo where there was one multinational soldier for every 50 to 60 people," O'Brien said.
Central authority is another problem. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's U.S.-appointed leader, has in effect become what some sarcastically call "the mayor of Kabul," referring to the fact that his government yields little influence in the rest of the country.
He himself is so frustrated with slow progress in Afghanistan that he has said he will step down next year.
Afghanistan's share of world opium production went from 12 percent in 2001 to 76 percent in 2002 alone, according to CARE International figures. "There is no escaping from discussing drug production," Ghani mused during a press conference in Dubai Tuesday. "I have warned several times about dangers of narco-criminals. If it is happening, it is not because we are turning a blind eye to it."
He and others says without restoring security throughout the country, the problem will likely linger.
But not all is bleak, argue others, such as World Bank officials.
"There are things going on that are visible and there are things going on that are invisible," said Alastair McKechnie, World Bank's country chief for Afghanistan. "These successes are spread throughout the country, but they don't always get media attention." Among others, he and Ghani point out, the fact is that the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 30 percent in 2002.
They add that despite the drought that threatens the livelihood of many, agriculture revenue has increased and various individual reconstruction efforts are undergoing throughout the country.
October 25, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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