Dec. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan plans to appeal at a conference in Bonn today for international economic aid to continue to 2025 and for donors to help pay for its security forces until 2030 to avoid having progress “come undone.”
Afghan officials plan to describe the nation’s precarious position and long-term needs, according to a copy of the report obtained by Bloomberg News. It acknowledges the government’s economic plight -- the World Bank estimates Afghanistan will need about $7 billion a year for the next decade -- and warns that unless its budget gap is met “the good work of the past ten years will come undone.”
About 90 delegations, totaling more than 1,000 participants, are gathering to discuss Afghanistan’s future ten years after the first Bonn conference was held to show support for the post- Taliban government of President Hamid Karzai. Pakistan’s decision to boycott the meeting, in response to a Nov. 25 NATO strike killed 24 of their soldiers, may diminish the effort.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her counterparts will discuss economic strategies, including the “New Silk Road” regional trade framework, to create that support after 2014, when Karzai is slated to step down and NATO troops withdraw, ending billions in related military aid.
‘Hopeful but Dubious’
“I’m hopeful but dubious,” said Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center in Washington, commenting on Afghanistan’s future prospects. “Even if Pakistan were fully participating, I think the idea of a regional cooperation toward a settlement is going to be very difficult.”
The central goal of the Bonn session will be to ensure that international aid continues, said a State Department official who briefed reporters under ground rules that don’t allow him to be named. Many countries have invested blood, treasure and resources in Afghanistan over the past decade, the official said, and it will still take more time to get the country on its feet.
President Barack Obama called Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday and Clinton spoke with Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani to express their condolences and stress U.S. commitment to the relationship, according to statements from the White House and State Department. Pakistan, a central player in the international strategy on Afghanistan, is sticking to its boycott.
The Afghans’ Transition Strategy lays out as goals to assume full responsibility for security by 2015, to end reliance on non-security foreign aid by 2025 and to have an Afghan-funded “professional, highly effective” national security force by 2030.
Afghans want to attract private sector investment and improve the country’s ranking on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. Currently ranked among the world’s worst at 180 out of 182, Afghan officials would like to rise to 150 in three years.
Corruption and weak governance are “fully half of the reasons for Afghanistan’s problems, apart from insecurity and the Taliban,” said Haroun Mir, a political analyst at the Kabul-based Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies.
The Bonn conference won’t improve Afghanistan’s future because it won’t address “those obvious weaknesses,” Mir said in a phone interview.
Afghanistan will also be asking country donors for continued aid at a time of financial crisis and constraint in Europe and the U.S. The Afghan Ambassador to the U.S. Eklil Hakimi acknowledged the financial squeeze that might make it hard for the international community to commit aid.
Replacing Military Spending
“We are mindful of the financial climate, but this aid will be lower than military spending,” he said in an interview.
The Afghan economic plan argues that the levels of aid requested are relatively small. The $10 billion needed to make up the country’s fiscal gap in 2015 represents a 40 percent reduction from current aid levels, the report says.
Many Afghans see international support as their country’s only protection against Pakistan efforts to use its influence with the Pakistan-based Taliban and allied Islamic militant guerrillas to pressure or dominate Afghanistan, said Afghan analysts including Ahmad Saeedi, a retired diplomat in Kabul.
“If the international community fails to support us financially, Pakistan will be in a position to bring our country under its influence, as it did from 1996 to 2001, during the Taliban regime,” he said in a telephone interview.
Afghan and U.S. officials, including the former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and President Karzai, charge that elements of Pakistan’s army use their backing for the Taliban to fight a proxy war in Afghanistan.
Pakistan denies manipulating militant groups and its leaders say national security interests require a friendly Afghan government that isn’t too close to Pakistan’s historic rival India.
In Bonn, Afghan officials will announce the reintegration of about 3,000 Taliban fighters into Afghan society, said Hakimi, the ambassador to the U.S.
Hathaway of the Wilson Center said he was skeptical that the plans to build a regional trade block will be enough to induce militants to embrace reconciliation. Those most responsible for instability in Afghanistan today “are not going to be dissuaded because of new trade routes or by the prospect of regional trade ties,” he said.
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--With assistance from James Rupert in New Delhi, Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul and Viola Gienger in Washington. Editor: Terry Atlas, John Brinsley
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