The political choreography was flawless. The timing was perfect. The players were in their places. The International Conference in Support of
, held in Paris, brought together eighty donor countries and agencies with the noble aim of aiding the strife-torn South Asian land. Blame it on Paris, but the results were truly impressive; $20 billion in aid was pledged during the one day conference. But now comes the really tough part.
Sadly since being freed from the theocratic grip of the Taliban terrorists in 2001, Afghanistan has still not been able to eradicate corruption, nourish stability, nor bring widespread national peace. Clearly the years of Soviet occupation, followed by civil war and Taliban rule devastated this rugged mountainous land both physically and psychologically. While free elections have installed a formal democracy, with Hamid Karzai being elected President, actual day-to-day rule weaves through an ethnic quilt work of tribal chiefs and warlords who remain under nominal control of the Kabul government. Now the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban insurgency has flared again.
Drugs are big business and sadly Afghanistan has earned the dubious reputation of the world’s number one opium producer. Taliban forces, given their role in the lucrative narcotics trade, have destabilized the central government both militarily and morally.
On the eve of the Paris pledging conference, Afghan authorities announced a major drug seizure. Over 237 tons of hashish, worth $400 million was destroyed. “Notorious for being the world’s biggest producer of opium, Afghanistan has also become a major source of cannabis resin,” according to UN officials. The UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that 70,000 hectares of cannabis were grown in 2007, up from 50,000 in 2006 and 30,000 in 2005. Afghanistan appears to be overtaking the world’s top cannabis grower. “The international community needs to provide more support to curb Afghanistan’s drug problem”, the UN drugs chief stressed.
The UN Drug czar Antonio Maria Costa chided, “Drugs are financing terrorism and insurgency in Afghanistan.”
Amid the pomp and splendor of the Paris venue, Afghan President Karzai was feted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The green robed Karzai was greeted by Sarkozy to the backdrop of the ceremonial plumed Garde Republican . The influential daily Le Figaro announced, “France to Double its Afghan aid.” French aid will reach $165 million over the next two years. France will send another 700 soldiers to reinforce its 1,700 military already in Afghanistan serving alongside 70,000 NATO troops including large American, British, Canadian, Dutch and German contingents among others.
International humanitarian and reconstruction support has been forthcoming too. The USA came in first place with $10.2 billion pledged and followed by the United Kingdom with $1.2 billion. Germany gave an impressive $646 million, Canada contributed $600 million and Japan pledged $550 million.
“These are the building blocks of our new partnership and of a new deal for Afghanistan,” stated UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
As U.S. Secretary of State Condi Rice stressed, “This means successfully fighting corruption, improving accountability, and it means Afghan ownership of development. We strongly urge the Afghan Government to intensify its commitment to these goals.”
Though the numbers are impressive and the cause is worthy, there’s a major disconnect between pledged aid and delivered effect in country. Recently the World Bank criticized many donors for not helping to build the capacity of the Afghan government to manage its own affairs. The Bank revealed that there was little to show for the $1.6bn that has been spent on technical assistance in Afghanistan since 2002. “Almost 70% of development spending goes outside the government,” the report said going to consultants which the report calls the “second civil service.” Indeed 90 percent of the Afghan government’s revenue comes from foreign aid.
Still the Paris aid conference “was not just about raising more money but trying to find a better way of improving the flow of aid, and building the capacity of the Afghan government to manage affairs for itself,” according to the British BBC. Indeed in situations like this international aid can bring a crippling national dependency on outside sources. Not giving the assistance however, can tip Afghanistan’s slide back into the arms of despair and the forces of hate which nourished Al-Qaida and turned Afghanistan into a safe haven for international terror prior to 2001. Thus through helping Afghanistan’s nascent democracy, and aiding Afghan human development, we are also actually helping ourselves.