Donors pledge $15.2 bil­lion to help Afghan govern­ment

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Lorne Cook and John-Thor Dahlburg The Wash­ing­ton Post contributed

BRUS­SELS — In­ter­na­tional donors pledged $15.2 bil­lion Wed­nes­day to help keep Afghanistan’s be­lea­guered govern­ment afloat for the next four years, de­spite grow­ing re­luc­tance to pour more money into a cor­rup­tion-plagued coun­try wracked by con­flict.

The promised funds from more than 70 na­tions fell short of com­mit­ments made last time donors met in Tokyo in 2012. But the Euro­pean Union’s devel­op­ment com­mis­sioner, Neven Mim­ica, said the pledges “sur­passed some of our best-case sce­nar­ios ”

As the donors met, Afghan forces, backed by Amer­i­can heli­copters, bat­tled the Tal­iban in the north­ern city of Kun­duz for the third straight day Wed­nes­day, fol­low­ing a mul­ti­pronged at­tack launched by in­sur­gents ear­lier this week.

Be­yond the in­sur­gency, the Afghan govern­ment is es­ti­mated to be ca­pa­ble of meet­ing only 20 per­cent of its bud­get, and about 39 per­cent of the Afghan pop­u­la­tion lives on less than $1.35 a day.

But Afghanistan has sur­vived off West­ern aid and mil­i­tary sup­port for 15 years, since a U.S.-led coali­tion ousted the Tal­iban for har­bor­ing Osama bin Laden in 2001. The Euro­pean Union, co-host­ing the donor con­fer­ence in Brus­sels, strug­gled to raise the funds that Kabul so sorely needs, given the in­creas­ingly pow­er­ful in­sur­gency there and ram­pant cor­rup­tion.

In the end, the EU and its 28 mem­ber states pledged $5.6 bil­lion in to­tal un­til 2017, mak­ing it the big­gest donor.

“It is truly a re­mark­able day,” Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani told re­porters.

Speak­ing to re­porters as the donors’ con­fer­ence got un­der­way, EU for­eign pol­icy chief Fed­er­ica Mogherini de­nied re­ports the bloc is mak­ing aid con­di­tional on Afghanistan tak­ing back peo­ple who have fled to Men look out from a bro­ken win­dow Wed­nes­day af­ter an at­tack in Kabul, Afghanistan. Europe, say­ing there is “never a link be­tween our devel­op­ment aid and what we do on mi­gra­tion.”

But there is clear pres­sure on the au­thor­i­ties in Kabul to do more to stop peo­ple flee­ing and take back those who leave

The head of the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion, Wil­liam Lacy Swing, told the AP that around 6,000 peo­ple are flood­ing back into Afghanistan from Pak­istan and Iran ev­ery day, and that any in­creased re­turns from Eu- rope would put ad­di­tional pres­sure on the coun­try’s frag­ile in­sti­tu­tions.

“This is a very vul­ner­a­ble so­ci­ety with very lim­ited ca­pac­ity to re­ceive these peo­ple, in terms of health fa­cil­i­ties, ed­u­ca­tion fa­cil­i­ties and train­ing fa­cil­i­ties,” Swing said.

An­nounced with lit­tle fan­fare, Europe just got Afghanistan to agree to ac­cept an un­lim­ited num­ber of de­por­ta­tions of Afghan ci­ti­zens. Vol­umes are ex­pected to be so high that as part of the deal, “both sides will ex­plore the pos­si­bil­ity to build a ded­i­cated ter­mi­nal for re­turn in Kabul air­port.”

EU na­tions may want to de­port up to 80,000 Afghan ci­ti­zens whose ap­pli­ca­tions for asy­lum have been re­jected, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­nal doc­u­ments that were leaked ear­lier this year.

RAH­MAT GUL/AP

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