Donors offer $16 billion Afghan aid at Tokyo conference
TOKYO (Reuters) – Major donors pledged on Sunday to give Afghanistan $16 billion in development aid over the next four years as they seek to prevent it from sliding back into chaos when foreign troops leave, but demanded reforms to fight corruption.
Donor fatigue and war weariness have taken their toll on how long the global community is willing to support Afghanistan and there are concerns that without financial backing about security following the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.
“Afghanistan’s security cannot only be measured by the absence of war,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an international donors conference in Tokyo.
“It has to be measured by whether people have jobs and economic opportunity, whether they believe their government is serving their needs, whether political reconciliation proceeds and succeeds.”
The Afghan central bank has estimated that at least $6 billion a year in new investment from foreign donors will be needed to foster economic growth over the next decade.
Clinton also stressed the importance of Afghanistan – among the poorest and most corrupt nations in the world – of taking aggressive action to fight graft and promote reforms.
“That must include fighting corruption, improving governance, strengthening the rule of law, increasing access to economic opportunity for all Afghans, especially for women,” she said.
U.S. officials provided no monetary figure for their expected aid, but said the administration would ask Congress to keep assistance levels stable through 2017 compared with the assistance Washington has offered over the past decade.
Representatives from about 80 countries and international aid organizations, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, were gathered in Tokyo to discuss aid for Afghanistan beyond 2014.
International donors provided $35 billion in aid to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2010, according to a summary prepared by Japanese officials.
Per capita economic output increased five-fold over the same period, but Afghanistan remains one of 10 poorest nations.
Major strides have been made in schooling children and improving access to health care, but three-quarters of the 30 million Afghans are illiterate and the average person earns only about $530 a year, according to the World Bank.
The government of Afghanistan has identified several priority areas for economic development, including investment in agriculture and mining, which Western officials see as a possible engine for future growth.
U.S. SECURITY UPGRADE
During a stopover in Kabul on Saturday, Clinton upgraded Afghanistan’s security status to a major non-NATO ally, a largely symbolic move, aimed at reinforcing the U.S. message to Afghans that they will not be abandoned as the war winds down.
The new status may help Afghanistan acquire U.S. defense supplies and have greater access to U.S. training as the Afghan army takes more responsibility for the country’s security ahead of the 2014 withdrawal of most NATO combat troops.
The decision, formally taken by U.S. President Barack Obama, keeps a promise that he made on a visit to Afghanistan this year to upgrade Kabul to a special security status given to only a limited number of U.S. partners – including Israel and Japan – which are not members of the NATO alliance.
However, it is not expected to have any immediate practical effect, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity, saying the large presence of NATO forces in the country already confers some similar benefits.
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Ron Popeski and Jeremy Laurence)