Afghans Want More International Aid
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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Bringing a plaintive appeal for help from the rest of the world, Afghan ministers assured U.S. officials on Wednesday that their country is secure, and will be even safer once international assistance begins to flow into Kabul.
The ministers gathered under tight security at Georgetown University to discuss with U.S. experts how to rebuild their war-ravaged country from scratch. Conference participants and members of the Afghan delegation passed through metal detectors and handed over their bags and briefcases for police to search.
At least seven Afghan ministers were in attendance, including Foreign Minister Abdullah, who told the crowd, ``The world cannot afford to fail in Afghanistan.″
``The people of Afghanistan expect us _ and they expect us very much at this time _ to deliver,″ Abdullah said. ``Can we do it on our own? The answer is no. Has enough been done by the international community? Unfortunately once again, the answer is no.″
The ministers stopped by the White House for a photo opportunity with President Bush, whom Abdullah called ``a great friend″ to Afghanistan. Abdullah downplayed the recent assassination of an Afghan vice president, saying continuing problems with security throughout the country are being addressed even as the killing is investigated.
``The security situation has improved a great deal,″ Abdullah said. ``Six months ago and today, we cannot compare it.″
Afghan officials will try to prevent such assassinations in the future, Abdullah said. ``But once it happens, we shouldn’t panic. We should pursue it. We should follow it. We should investigate it,″ he said.
As soon as the sessions convened Wednesday, the ministers complained that they can do little about Afghanistan’s problems _ especially security _ unless they receive a larger share of the money promised at a reconstruction conference in Tokyo earlier this year.
``We’re starting from zero in every sector,″ said Adib Farhadi, director of economic affairs for the Afghan foreign ministry. ``The Tokyo conference was a contract for us. We think we have fulfilled our part of the contract. It is now for the international community to fulfill their end of the contract, which is for the aid to come in.″
International donors pledged $4.5 billion. So far, Afghanistan has gotten roughly $1 billion, but more than half of it has gone toward food and humanitarian assistance, which in turn ``makes the people lazy,″ said Afghan reconstruction minister Mohammed Farhang.
Once the costs of logistics and security are considered, Farhadi said, that leaves only about $150 million for reconstruction. ``I can clearly say reconstruction in Afghanistan has not begun,″ he said.
Donors are leery of relinquishing dollars as long as Afghanistan appears unstable. The Afghan ministers were especially sensitive about that, saying they are doing the best they can considering their government largely lacks an infrastructure.
``This assistance should take place according to our priorities. It should not be dictated to us,″ Farhang said. ``Please don’t ask us where is security if reconstruction hasn’t started. That is being used as an excuse. Without reconstruction, there is no security.″
The administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, said the Afghans’ impatience is understandable, after a quarter-century of war, but they realize this process will take many years.
Natsios said the reconstruction effort is focused on rural areas because Afghanistan’s economy has been primarily agrarian.
He said USAID had rebuilt about 70,000 homes in rural areas since last October and about 30 schools.
The agency also is restoring wells, irrigation systems, health facilities and roads. If Congress approves the funding this week, the next phase of re-establishing the agricultural economic base can begin, Natsios said.
``Development takes time,″ he said. ``Reconstruction takes time. Of course, the people of Afghanistan are very impatient. They demand service and they demand visible help immediately.″