- Afghanistan will need the financial support of other countries for at least another decade beyond the 2014 departure of foreign troops, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said yesterday at an international conference.
The one-day conference in Bonn on the future of Afghanistan was overshadowed by a public display of bad blood between the United States and Pakistan, the two nations with the greatest stake and say in making Afghanistan safe and solvent.
Pakistan boycotted the meeting to protest an apparently errant U.S. air strike last month that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the rough border with Afghanistan. The strike furthered the perception in Pakistan that NATO and the U.S. are its true enemies, not the Taliban militants that operate on both sides of the border.
"It was unfortunate that they did not participate," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. "I expect that Pakistan will be involved going forward, and we expect them to play a constructive role."
During the conference, about 100 nations and international organizations, including the United Nations, pledged political and financial long-term support for war-torn Afghanistan to prevent it from falling back into chaos or becoming a safe haven for terrorists.
Donor nations did not commit to specific figures but pledged continued funding. A donor conference will be held in July in Japan.
"We will need your steadfast support for at least another decade," Karzai told the delegates, echoing a recent assessment by the World Bank that predicted a sharp budget shortfall as the 130,000 international troops gradually withdraw.
The United States announced that it would free more than $650 million in support for small community-based development projects in Afghanistan, frozen because of financial irregularities in Afghanistan's key Kabul Bank.
Afghanistan estimates that it will need outside contributions of roughly $10 billion in 2015 and onward, slightly less than half the country's annual gross national product, mostly because it won't be able to pay for its security forces, which are slated to increase to 352,000 personnel by the end of 2014.
"The entire region has a stake in Afghanistan's future and much to lose if the country again becomes a source of terrorism and instability," Clinton told the delegates.
Despite more than a decade of international intervention, since the Taliban was ousted by U.S. forces in 2001, Afghanistan still ranks among the world's poorest and most corrupt nations.
It is failing in two major areas in particular: security and good government. Violence has gone up sharply this year with increasingly brazen attacks, and has spread to the once-peaceful north of the country. Widespread corruption is bedeviling attempts to create a viable Afghan government and institutions to take over when the U.S. and NATO leave.
Moreover, Afghanistan provides about 90 percent of the world's opium, the raw ingredient used to make heroin. Money from the sale of opium is also used to fuel the insurgency, helping to buy weapons and equipment for the Taliban.