Western Nations Pledge New Aid to Afghanistan

Afghanistan receives promises of new economic and military support from Western nations at a conference in London. In return, Kabul pledges to fight corruption and the illegal opium trade. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a $1 billion package for next year.

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You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News. New promises of economic and military support for Afghanistan were made today at a conference in London. In return, the Afghan government has pledged to fight corruption and the illegal opium trade. NPR's Rob Gifford has details from London.

ROB GIFFORD, reporting:

Representatives of more than seventy countries and international bodies are attending the two-day conference which opened in London today. The aim is to issue a blueprint called the Afghanistan compact for the security, economic development, and counter-narcotic efforts of Afghanistan.

The plan is intended as the successor to the deal reached at a conference in Bonn, Germany in December 2001, which established a political process for Afghanistan after the U.S. led coalition overthrew the hard line Taliban regime. At the opening ceremony of the conference, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice spoke of the successes of the last four years.

Ms. CONDOLEEZA RICE (Secretary of State): A new democratic constitution, an emerging free economy, a growing multi-ethnic army that is the pride of the Afghan people, successful presidential and parliamentary elections in which millions of citizens, men and women voted freely for the first time.

GIFFORD: Secretary Rice backed up her moral support for Afghanistan with a pledge that the Bush administration will ask Congress for 1.1 billion dollars in aid for the country next year. Billions of dollars of aid have already flooded in. New hospitals, clinics and roads have been built since the Taliban was ousted. Enrollment in schools has increased five fold, including for girls.

But most Afghans remain mired in poverty. Seventy-five percent of aid money is channeled through non-governmental agencies. The World Bank has suggested it would efficient if the money is distributed the Kabul government. This is one of the main topics of the conference. Another major subject is drugs. Afghanistan is the source of ninety percent of the world's opium and heroin. Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai said it will take ten to fifteen years for the situation to be really brought under control.

President HAMID KARZAI (Afghanistan): I was quite naïve three years ago. I thought we were going to destroy poppies this year and that's it. But no, there is people depending on it. It will take time to develop alternatives. It will take time to develop better roads for the country, irrigation and an alternative (unintelligible) that will provide a better living condition for our people and that's time consuming.

GIFFORD: The other main issue is security. About sixteen hundred people were killed last year in militant violence including ninety-one U.S. soldiers. That made 2005 the deadliest year since 2001. Remnants of the Taliban are still very active, especially in the south of the country. Safia Sedicki (ph) is a member of the Afghan Parliament who is in London for the conference. She struck a more skeptical note about the West's involvement.

Ms. SAFIA SEDICKI (Afghan Parliament): Still we have the security problem in Afghanistan. Still we have the poppy cultivations, problem of the drug mafia problem in Afghanistan. Still have the tourist problem in Afghanistan. It's some of the things which the International has promised us but unfortunately they didn't stick to their promises. In the future, we would request as people from Afghanistan, them to be stick to the promises because the poor people of Afghanistan need help, I think, from their side.

GIFFORD: A Taliban leader in Afghanistan denounced the London meeting as an American drama and stage show and warned that the Taliban will continue to attack Western forces.

Bob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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