Afghanistan wins pledge of more than $4.4 billion

But nations stop short of making long-term financial commitment

April 01, 2004|By Paul Richter | Paul Richter,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BERLIN - The major contributors to Afghanistan's reconstruction declared yesterday that they will continue to pour aid into the country, yet stopped short of making the kind of long-term financial commitment sought by the country's beleaguered government.

More than two years after the Taliban was ousted from power, major donor nations meeting here pledged more than $4.4 billion to the cause and vowed that they will not allow Afghanistan to slide further into violence and disorder.

"A peaceful Afghanistan is an anchor for political stability in the region, and a sign of hope for us all," said German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose government was a principal sponsor and organizer of the event.

Most of the pledges previously had been announced, including $2.3 billion from the United States. But Japan disclosed yesterday that it will give $400 million over the next two years, bringing its total contribution since 2001 to more than $1 billion.

In addition, through a last-minute round of side deals, countries chipped in $63 million that will be needed to take the first steps toward holding national elections that are planned for September, said Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the United Nations Development Program. The United States pledged $25 million toward that effort.

With reconstruction moving slowly and Afghanistan plagued by violence, the government of President Hamid Karzai wanted to use the conference to nail down as many aid commitments as possible for as long as possible. The Afghans offered a new report that said their country will need $28 billion over the next seven years and their government can increase its absorption of aid from $2 billion a year to $4 billion.

The Afghans wanted "to get as much donor political will locked in as possible," said Malloch Brown.

U.S. officials said Afghanistan was pledged $8 billion of the $12 billion it was seeking for expenses over the next three fiscal years. Yet many governments are barred from committing expenditures for more than one or two years ahead of time. It was clear that the conference would come nowhere near the money sought for the next seven years.

The lead sponsors of the event sought to stiffen the resolve of their contributors by warning of what would follow if international backers pulled out.

Karzai warned that drugs are "undermining ... the very existence of the Afghan state." He said the problem was "too big for us to handle alone."

Afghanistan is unusually dependent on foreign aid, even by the standards of very poor countries. The $200 million the government raises at home to fund its work represents a fraction of the expected annual spending of slightly more than $4 billion.

Officials portrayed the meeting as a success.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the presence of 65 delegations at the session "testifies to the strength of support within the world community for the people of Afghanistan, as they build a future of freedom, prosperity and security." He said the aid plan agreed to years ago in Bonn in 2001 "is on track."

Barnett Rubin of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University said "the low level of funding for the reconstruction of Afghanistan remains astonishing, given the importance with which major nations claim to regard it, and the consequences of the previous neglect of that country."

Meanwhile yesterday, a force of 2,000 Marines began arriving in Afghanistan as part of a stepped-up mission to crush Taliban-led insurgents and flush out al-Qaida fugitives.

The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit will work a specific area of the country in an attempt to improve intelligence on enemy activity, spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty said. He declined to give details, citing security concerns.

"The plan is to continue to place pressure on al-Qaida and the Taliban throughout the south and east while providing enduring security," Hilferty said. He said they were not part of a troop rotation, but additional troops.

In the latest operation, troops detained six suspected Taliban members - including a "mid-level" leader - in a raid in southern Afghanistan late Tuesday, Hilferty said. He did not disclose the leader's identity.

The Marines will bring the U.S.-led coalition to 15,500, the largest force since the United States decided to oust the Taliban for sheltering al-Qaida in 2001.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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