Afghan leader vows to fight poverty as donors gather

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani ap­pealed yes­ter­day for sus­tained in­ter­na­tional help for his in­sur­gency-wracked coun­try, promis­ing in­ter­na­tional donors that the govern­ment would con­cen­trate its fu­ture ef­forts on tack­ling ram­pant poverty.

“We are go­ing to be re­lent­lessly fo­cused on re­duc­tion and elim­i­na­tion of poverty as our cen­tral task,” Ghani told rep­re­sen­ta­tives from more than 70 na­tions and dozens of agen­cies and non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions gathered in Brus­sels to try to drum up bil­lions of dol­lars to keep the Afghan govern­ment afloat.

The Afghan govern­ment is es­ti­mated to only be ca­pa­ble of meet­ing 20 per­cent of its bud­get, and Ghani noted that 39 per­cent of the Afghan pop­u­la­tion lives on less than $1.35 a day. But donor fa­tigue has grown over the 15 years of in­ter­na­tional ef­forts in Afghanistan since a USled coali­tion ousted the Tale­ban for har­bor­ing for­mer al -Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. The Euro­pean Union, host­ing the con­fer­ence, has been strug­gling to raise around $3 bil­lion that Kabul will need each year. The last donor con­fer­ence, in Tokyo in 2012, se­cured $4 bil­lion in an­nual sub­si­dies for devel­op­ment.

The Tale­ban have proved tena­cious, wag­ing an in­creas­ingly pow­er­ful in­sur­gency around the coun­try. Afghan forces bat­tled Tale­ban fight­ers in the north­ern city of Kun­duz for the third straight day on Wed­nes­day and Amer­i­can heli­copters pro­vided air sup­port to troops on the ground in the wake of the mul­ti­pronged at­tack on the city launched by in­sur­gents this week.

De­spite the set­backs, and ram­pant cor­rup­tion, UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon said that “it’s im­por­tant to­day that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity sends a strong mes­sage of sup­port.” Afghanistan’s lead­ers “have been mak­ing im­pres­sive re­forms and devel­op­ment plans to change the lives of peo­ple that have been suf­fer­ing too long,” Ban said.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing the many set­backs that Afghanistan has faced, US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry said that he still has “an enor­mous sense of con­fi­dence about the fu­ture.” “Year by year our shared ef­fort, one of the largest in­ter­na­tional coali­tions ever as­sem­bled, and main­tained over a sus­tained pe­riod in time, is in fact yield­ing en­cour­ag­ing div­i­dends,” Kerry told the rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

The EU’s for­eign pol­icy chief, Fed­er­ica Mogherini, said the EU and its mem­ber states will pledge 1.2 bil­lion eu­ros ($1.3 bil­lion) each year up un­til 2020 “and we would ex­pect a sim­i­lar level of en­gage­ment from our part­ners.”

“We all need to com­mit to a new deal for Afghanistan,” Mogherini said as she opened the meet­ing. But many par­tic­i­pants at the con­fer­ence have heard such rhetoric be­fore, and some were un­der­whelmed by the prom­ises be­ing made. “The com­mit­ments to fight­ing cor­rup­tion are very weak and we are dis­ap­pointed,” Ikram Afzali, from the anti-cor­rup­tion civil so­ci­ety group In­tegrity Watch Afghanistan, told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

He said that some of the anti-cor­rup­tion plans on the ta­ble are “just win­dow-dress­ing for this con­fer­ence.” Other plans are to be drawn up for next year. “We don’t have time,” he said. In ear­lier com­ments to re­porters, Mogherini de­nied re­ports the bloc is mak­ing aid con­di­tional on Afghanistan tak­ing back peo­ple who have fled to Europe, say­ing there is “never a link be­tween our devel­op­ment aid and what we do on mi­gra­tion.”

Afghan For­eign Min­is­ter Salahud­din Rab­bani said the Brus­sels con­fer­ence would give his govern­ment an op­por­tu­nity to present its re­form blueprint. He stressed its com­mit­ment to fight­ing cor­rup­tion and ad­vanc­ing women’s rights. “Our achieve­ments are many and Afghanistan is ad­vanc­ing on a pos­i­tive tra­jec­tory,” Rab­bani said. “Yet our chal­lenges re­main for­mi­da­ble.”

Afghanistan has been mired in con­flict for decades. At the height of the 15-year US and NATO in­ter­ven­tion, bil­lions of dol­lars flowed into the coun­try, cre­at­ing a false econ­omy with dou­ble-digit growth. But the draw­down of troops in 2014 led many aid work­ers and in­ter­na­tional agen­cies to de­part or scale back their op­er­a­tions, caus­ing the econ­omy to all but col­lapse.

Of­fi­cials es­ti­mate up to 50 per­cent un­em­ploy­ment. De­te­ri­o­rat­ing se­cu­rity de­ters for­eign in­vest­ment in key fields such as min­ing and in­fra­struc­ture, and drives the coun­try’s youth onto the mi­grant trail to Europe in search of op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Out­side EU head­quar­ters in Brus­sels, hun­dreds of peo­ple from Afghanistan’s Hazara com­mu­nity ral­lied to de­nounce dis­crim­i­na­tion against them. — AP

BRUS­SELS: Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk, right, shakes hands with Afghanistan’s Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah dur­ing a Con­fer­ence on Afghanistan yes­ter­day. — AP

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