Donors Meet On Afghanistan Aid

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is attending a donors' conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, along with representatives of 70 nations in an effort to shore up the country.


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

A major conference of international donors is underway today in Afghanistan. Senior officials from about 70 nations are gathering under heavy security in the capital, Kabul. They include U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. NPR's Jackie Northam is traveling with the secretary, and she joins us now from Kabul.

Good morning, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So, Jackie, 70 countries there, or so, altogether. What is the tone of the speeches you've heard so far?

NORTHAM: Well, for the most part, the tone is supportive. There's lots of praise for the Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai. And there are assurances that there will be continued support.

But, you know, there's also acknowledgment that more work needs to be done here by the government, and specifically in fighting corruption and curbing the drug trade and really providing more accountability for the billions of dollars and the resources that have flowed into Afghanistan over the past nine years.

In her speech, Secretary Clinton said this conference is about accountability. You know, this conference comes at a time when there's a growing weariness about how much help Afghanistan has been given compared to what progress has been made.

And certainly, Secretary Clinton addressed this donor fatigue, if you like. Let's listen to a bit of her speech from today.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): Now, we know the road ahead will not be easy. Citizens of many nations represented here, including my own, wonder whether success is even possible - and, if so, whether we all have the commitment to achieve it.

NORTHAM: Still, Clinton and the other delegates here said that there was a commitment and that the U.S. had no intention of abandoning its long-term mission of achieving what she called a stable and secure Afghanistan.

KELLY: Well, Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, delivered the first speech today. What was his message for all of the donor nations there about progress so far?

NORTHAM: Well, he talked about his vision for Afghanistan as an economic hub in the future and a place that is stable and secure. Karzai acknowledged and he showed his appreciation for the help that has come in from the international community.

But he also indicated that Afghanistan wanted to take more control of its future. And he asked the donors that, over the next couple of years, he'd like to see 50 percent of their assistance be channeled right through to his government. Now, that might be a bit of a hard sell because, again, of the corruption that's endemic here.

And the other thing that Karzai said is he also wanted to see the Afghan police and soldiers take charge of security throughout the country by 2014.

KELLY: By 2014, really? I mean, is that realistic?

NORTHAM: The international forces that are training the Afghan army are seeing some progress, certainly. But the police force is woefully lacking. They're not seeing much progress with the police at all. So that might be a bit of a stretch.

KELLY: Did either President Karzai or Secretary Clinton talk about this issue of negotiating with militants, whether the Taliban and other militants should be brought into the government?

NORTHAM: Well, Karzai said that there was a consensus among many political parties here in Afghanistan that they could reach out to what he called the enemy, as long as they, you know, renounce violence and break with al-Qaida and some other conditions. And he said he hoped that the international community would both endorse and support those peace initiatives.

Secretary Clinton said the U.S. is closely following those efforts to reintegrate insurgents who want to come into the fold. But she stressed that the rights of ethnic groups, and particularly the rights of women, cannot be sacrificed under the reconciliation process.

Clinton met earlier this morning with a group of women, and they voiced their concerns - serious concerns that all the strides they've made in the past few years since the Taliban were removed from power may be lost if the Taliban are incorporated back into government.

KELLY: Last thing, Jackie: I gather that Iran's foreign minister spoke at the conference. What did he have to say?

NORTHAM: Foreign Minister Mutaki did address the conference, and he went off on a couple of tangents and was twice interrupted by the moderator to basically stick to the subject of Afghanistan and to his time limit.

He lashed out at the USA. He blamed the U.S. for a couple of bombings in mosques last week in the Iranian province of Baluchestan. And Mutaki said that from the evidence and from interrogations that they had done, that the people who carried out these bombs were trained by international forces inside Afghanistan.

KELLY: Interesting stuff. All right. Thank you, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thank you very much.

KELLY: That's NPR's foreign affairs correspondent Jackie Northam, speaking from Kabul. She's traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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