World donors promised Afghanistan more than $20 billion (£10 billion) of new aid, plus fresh moral support, yesterday, but told President Karzai that they were losing patience with his Government’s failure to stem rampant graft and drug trafficking.
Under international pressure over the lack of progress in rebuilding his country, Mr Karzai promised to fight corruption and sought understanding. Poppy-growing farmers, for example, needed help, he said. “Opium is about survival for them.”
The United States, represented by Laura Bush, its First Lady, opened the pledges at the Paris donors’ conference with a $10.2 billion commitment over five years. “Afghanistan has reached a decisive moment for its future. We must not turn our back on this opportunity,” she said.
David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, promised £600 million. He praised progress made in security and healthcare but said that there was a long way to go in building good governance in Afghanistan. The growing links between the insurgency and the drugs industry - which, Mr Miliband said, was reflected in the haul of 235 tonnes of cannabis resin worth about £200 million - had to be tackled.
The total was well short of the $50 billion that Mr Karzai was seeking from the 80 nations and organisations that have already promised $25 billion since 2002. Only $15 billion of that has been spent so far, much of it ineffectively and wastefully, according to aid experts. Afghanistan depends on aid for 90 per cent of its needs.
Nevertheless, Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, called the conference “an unexpected success”. “We had hoped in our most optimistic moments to raise perhaps 17 billion at the most,” he said.
President Sarkozy of France led a chorus of support for Mr Karzai’s fragile Government as the best hope for Afghanistan. “It is the duty of all democrats to help you,” he said. Mr Sarkozy, who has deepened French engagement with the forthcoming deployment of 900 combat troops, said that Afghanistan “was taken hostage by a regime allied to terrorism”.
About 8,000 people were killed last year in the fight with a rejuvenated Taleban, which is trying to break Western will to keep the Nato-led force of 47,000 in Afghanistan.
Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, called for “active measures” against corruption, more transparency and better management of aid.
Stephen Smith, the Australian Foreign Minister, said that reconstruction had been slow. Mr Smith told The Times that “the Afghan Government has to start taking some responsibility” for the administration of the aid funds.
Mr Karzai cited progress in building roads and hospitals, and in fighting opium production since the 2001 fall of the Taleban regime, but he acknowledged: “There is a long way still ahead of us . . . Afghanistan needs adequate, long-term and predictable support.”