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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Nations Promise Funds to Afghans

Aid: Pledges at Tokyo conference total more than $1.7 billion so far, with the U.S. earmarking $296.7 million. Interim prime minister seeks to reassure the donors.

January 21, 2002|MARK MAGNIER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TOKYO — The United States and other nations pledged more than $1.7 billion for Afghanistan today at the opening of a two-day reconstruction conference here in an effort to reverse 23 years of war, famine, intrigue and chaos.

Organizers expressed the hope that more control by Afghans and more vigilance by the international community will help end the nation's role as a breeding ground for terrorism. They also sought to prevent the corruption, waste, overlap and misguided priorities of other recent global efforts to rebuild war-ravaged regions.

In a bid to set a high bar for other nations, the United States opened with a pledge of $296.7 million this year in addition to $400 million in humanitarian aid already allocated, with a promise of more to follow.

"This conference is not about rhetoric, it's about resources," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said, "so I'm going to go right to the bottom line."

The U.S. offer was quickly followed by pledges from the meeting's other co-chairs: $500 million from the European Union in 2002, $500 million from Japan over the next 30 months and $220 million from Saudi Arabia over a three-year period. Smaller pledges were received from several other nations.

Lining up these promises is the first step. Spending the money effectively and avoiding donor fatigue over the next decade will be far more difficult.

Interim Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai walked a fine line in his opening speech. He underscored how badly hit his nation has been and how much it needs--even needling the participants by mentioning the lavish breakfasts they had all enjoyed.

At the same time, he sought to reassure his audience that Afghanistan would use any money wisely, fighting drug production, stemming corruption and getting off international welfare rolls as soon as possible.

"I'd much rather be in your position as potential donors than to be a supplicant," he said. "We Afghan people are a proud and self-sufficient people."

Indeed, the glitzy hotel conference room where the meeting is taking place contrasted sharply with the images of hunger, disease, discrimination, abuse, homelessness and economic despair coming out of Afghanistan.

$45-Billion Estimate Drew a Cool Response

Even before its official opening, the conference saw a blizzard of statistics as international agencies and governments dickered over how much money is needed, who should control the funds, how much should go to various priorities and what time frame should apply. The conference is designed to resolve many of these issues.

Afghanistan's planning minister said this month that the ultimate price tag for rebuilding the country could be $45 billion over the next decade. This number was greeted coolly by donors, however. The United Nations has outlined a $14.9-billion target over a decade and $5 billion over the next five years, while other development officials say $1.7 billion is needed immediately.

"It's really too early to tell," said a senior official with one of the co-chairs.

Some of the figures cited provided a hint of how difficult it will be to address so many problems at once. One in six Afghans dies before age 3, two-thirds of the nation's adults are illiterate, half of all children are chronically malnourished, just 3% of girls attend elementary school (compared with 38% of boys), and an estimated 3,000 people are maimed by land mines every year.

A well-oiled, efficient, corruption-free rebuilding effort is probably more than anyone can expect in a country without a stable legal system, government or economy. But conference organizers said they will try to learn from past mistakes and avoid some of the most obvious pitfalls.

Database Proposed to Keep Track of It All

Organizers are proposing a comprehensive database tentatively named Gateway that would help streamline efforts and prevent duplication. In theory, this centralized list of projects and funding levels would allow donors to see which areas are well-funded and which are ignored--to avoid, for instance, duplicate roads in one part of the country and a lack of transport links in another.

Also under discussion is a donor code of conduct to improve spending efficiency.

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