Don't shortchange Afghanistan again

Posted in Broader Middle East | 23-Jan-06 | Author: Karl F. Inderfurth, S. Frederick Starr and Marvin | Source: International Herald Tribune

US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald E. Neumann addresses a press conference at the US Embassy in Kabul.
WASHINGTON The forthcoming London conference on Afghanistan represents both a milestone and a challenge for the United States and the international community: a milestone because it will mark the completion of the Bonn process, the UN-brokered accord in 2001 to chart Afghanistan's path to a democratically elected government; a challenge because it will signal the beginning of the next critical stage in the country's rebirth after decades of war and destruction.

Much has been accomplished since the Taliban were overthrown by U.S.-led forces four years ago. President Hamid Karzai is justifiably proud in saying that Afghanistan "now has a constitution, a president, a Parliament and a nation fully participating in its destiny."

It is also true that Afghanistan is still at risk. The insurgency led by elements of the Taliban and Al Qaeda is not going away. Afghanistan remains the world's leading drug supplier of opium. Corruption is on the rise. And many Afghans are beginning to ask, four years after the international community arrived, where are the promised roads, the schools, the health clinics, the electricity, the water?

In London, more than 60 countries and international organizations will gather to adopt a new, post-Bonn framework for cooperation and partnership with Afghanistan. A document known as the Afghanistan Compact will set out benchmarks and timetables to achieve specific goals in security, governance and development over the next five years.

The conference will also provide the international community another opportunity to match its stated commitment to see Afghanistan rebuild with the resources necessary to accomplish that task. Two previous donors conferences - in Tokyo in 2002 and Berlin in 2004 - fell short.

These conferences generated less than half of the $28 billion that the Afghan government (and the World Bank) believes is required for reconstruction. Moreover, of the $13 billion actually pledged by the international community, to date only about $4 billion has been spent for rebuilding projects. This represents only a fraction of the much larger sums that have gone to reconstruction efforts in Iraq or the Balkans.

Afghanistan is getting shortchanged. The first order of business in London should be to correct this mismatch of Afghan needs and donor funding, and the United States should take the lead.

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, is right in saying that the $623 million in U.S. aid planned for 2006 will not be enough. In London, Washington should announce that it intends to double its reconstruction funding for the next five years, and challenge other donors, especially the Europeans, to follow suit.

There are three other urgent priorities the London conference should recognize.

First, the insurgency. A planned reduction in U.S. troops in Afghanistan (by 13 percent) is causing concern in Kabul. While their replacement with NATO forces brings a welcome broadening of international responsibility, this should not result in a net loss of military capability. International peacekeepers should adopt rules of engagement that will allow them to conduct aggressive counterinsurgency operations and provide the protection necessary to enable reconstruction.

Second, weak governance. Without competent and honest civil servants at the local level, Kabul cannot hope to deliver the services the population desperately needs. Donors must invest in recruiting and training qualified government workers and police, and help the government build the tax base necessary to pay for them. The judicial system, without which policies will be unenforceable, must be rebuilt.

Third, the drug trade. Afghan farmers must be able to do as well from legal crops as from opium. This means renewing irrigation systems, introducing new plant stocks, developing transport systems and providing short-term credit. Just as the United States accepts moral responsibility for the effect of its drug habits on Colombia, European countries must accept their addictions are destroying Afghan society, and provide the needed investments.

Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Said Tayeb Jawad, says his country clearly remembers its descent into extremism after the United States (and much of the rest of the international community) left at the end of the Soviet occupation in 1989. The biggest concern that Afghans have about the international presence, he says, is that it might be short-lived.

The London conference offers the international community the opportunity to respond affirmatively to that concern, for the next five years and beyond.

(Karl F. Inderfurth, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, is a professor at George Washington University. S. Frederick Starr is chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. Marvin G. Weinbaum is scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute.)