11 September 2001>News Stories>More Than $4.5 Billion Pledged in Afghan Aid Effort

More Than $4.5 Billion Pledged in Afghan Aid Effort

Howard W. French . NY Times . 22 January 2002

Afghanistan is seeking foreign aid to rebuild its public works, like this bridge on the outskirts of Kabul, which a bus struggled across on Monday.

TOKYO, Jan. 21 — International donors today pledged more than $4.5 billion over five years for the rebuilding of Afghanistan, the center of the world's attention since the terrorist attacks on the United States.

The pledges, made on the first day of a two-day international donors' conference here, came close to meeting the announced goals of the World Bank and the United Nations.

After relatively strong opening pledges by traditional donors like the United States, Japan and the European Union, many pledges poured in from countries not usually associated with international aid, including neighboring countries like Iran, India and Pakistan, as well as South Korea, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Coming on top of a total of nearly $1.3 billion pledged by the major Western donors, plus Japan, Iran pledged $560 million, while India and Pakistan pledged $100 million each. The time span of the offers varies by country.

The United States and United Nations have been concerned that Iran has been trying to exercise sway in Afghanistan. Today there were reports that Iran is working to consolidate influence with a local ruler in the city of Herat by sending aid shipments, which may include weapons.

The Saudis pledged $220 million, and Kuwait $30 million. South Korea pledged $45 million for projects over the next two and a half years.

"We're thrilled," said the Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman, Omar Samad. "Every single dollar is appreciated. We're hoping that the international community doesn't just talk, that the international community delivers. And on the Afghan side, we hope we deliver on the promises made by Mr. Karzai today."

His concern, first expressed by the interim head of the Afghan government, Hamid Karzai, has hovered over the conference from the start. Few, if any, third world countries have ever attracted as much interest as Afghanistan, which is a testament to the sense of international urgency.

But international donors have a spotty record in following through on public commitments. The promises made here today under a bewildering assortment of currencies and terms, many of them by newcomers to the aid game, will make follow-up all the more crucial.

Many of the speeches today hammered away at the importance of keeping commitments. There are other reasons besides history to worry. The conference host, Japan, to cite but one country, is in the grips of an accelerating economic crisis that has plagued the country for more than a decade. Japan has pledged $500 million to the reconstruction effort, half in the first year. But while Japan's record in meeting aid commitments is good, public support for international assistance is crumbling.

Moments before the conference opened this morning, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill met briefly with the Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to urge Japan to take stronger action to bolster the economy. Later, the Bank of Japan's governor, Masaru Hayami, warned of a deflationary spiral and said the economy faced further decline.

The mounting anti-aid sentiment and worry over the future could be heard in the complaints of a homemaker, who was interviewed about the subject today. "Why do we have to donate money to Afghanistan while the economy of your own country is collapsing," asked Teruko Okamoto. "The money will only be taken by top officials like Karzai and will never reach poor people."

"In Japan, stocks, national bonds, everything could be collapsing and we could be in worse condition than Afghans," said Ms. Okamoto, 61.

About two-thirds of Afghan adults are illiterate, half of the children are chronically malnourished and only about 6 percent of the population has electricity. But concern that donated funds will be pilfered or wasted has also been a major subtheme here.

Officials and advisers to Afghanistan's interim government are keenly aware of the risk of that sort of impression — or even worse, reality — taking hold. "We know ourselves that we have to have a transparency mechanism that will be credible," said Torek R. Faradi, a professor at California State University at Hayward who has become an economic adviser to the government. "We are inviting in an outsider auditor to see what we have done with the money.

"It's also important for us to know how we spent the money. Rebuilding Afghanistan will take 10 to 15 years. We want to demonstrate that the money goes to the right place."

For his part, Secrretary Powell said he believed that Mr. Karzai would fulfill his pledge to hire auditors and assure that the funds were spent appropriately.

"I take him at his word," the secretary said, "for the simple reason that he knows that if he doesn't do these sorts of things, then the second- year money won't be there, and maybe a lot of the first-year pledges won't be there, if they don't see a system of accountability.

"I think he understands the importance of doing this right, and we've got to help him make that happen."

Aid Warehouse Looted


KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 21 — As Afghanistan's interim leaders basked in the pledges of aid in Tokyo today, events at home underscored how shaky this country remains.

The United Nations said a warehouse belonging to one of its affiliates was looted and robbed of 40 tons of food last Thursday. It was the second attack in a week on relief efforts operated by the World Food Program, said a United Nations spokesman, Jordan Dey.

Mr. Dey said armed men had severely beaten staff members at the warehouse before stealing the food. The warehouse, in Qaisar, in southwestern Afghanistan, supplies food to drought victims.

Mr. Dey suggested that there might have been a ethnic component to the violence: the men were Uzbek, while the food was to be distributed in a predominantly Pashtun area.

Earlier in the week, troops in the northern town of Aibek seized two trucks carrying 40 tons of food for the World Food Program. There, too, the drivers were beaten.

"We're not happy about this, and we certainly hope it doesn't become a pattern," Mr. Dey said.

Violence has also been reported in the northern city of Kunduz, where forces loyal to the Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum are said to be clashing with troops loyal to Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former president of Afghanistan, who is a Tajik.

The fighting, which is said to have claimed 11 lives, was reported by the Afghan Islamic Press, a news agency based in Pakistan. Mr. Dey said he could not confirm the report.

Any factional fighting would be a setback for the interim government, which is trying to establish control over this land of feuding warlords.

The government is finally addressing another problem. On Wednesday it plans to begin paying back salaries to some of its 235,000 workers. Public employees have not been paid for six months, and officials say Afghanistan needs $100 million to pay those salaries plus the next six months of salaries and operating expenses.