WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday pressed international donors to speed along reconstruction aid to Afghanistan and consider sending even more money to Kabul over the next five years.
Addressing a World Bank steering committee on Afghan reconstruction, Powell acknowledged that government processes can sometimes cause logjams that slow aid to needy nations. But, he said, donor countries raised the hopes of war-weary Afghans when they promised that money, and now must do more to get the funds into the pipeline.
"We won't be able to meet all those expectations at once," Powell said. "But having raised them, we have an obligation to meet our commitments to provide what we said we would provide."
Officials with Afghanistan's new government have been concerned about the flow of the reconstruction aid promised by donor nations during a summit in Tokyo in January. They had anticipated receiving $1.8 billion in foreign assistance this year but so far has gotten only about half that amount, and are now in a cash crunch.
The bulk of the aid Afghanistan has received, $650 million, has been spent on the country's humanitarian crisis, said Adib Farhadi, director of economic affairs for the Afghan foreign ministry. President Hamid Karzai's government would like to put reconstruction and humanitarian assistance on separate fiscal tracks, Farhadi said, so it can rebuild roads, buildings and other infrastructure more quickly.
The United States has already sent most of the $296 million it promised in Tokyo, and approved about $280 million in additional aid this year, Powell said. Of the new money, $33 million would go toward easing the government's budget deficit and the rest will fund humanitarian aid, road-building, law enforcement and counternarcotics, and training a national army, Powell said.
He asked the gathering to "take a hard look at whether the $4.5 billion that we pledged over five years is enough to meet the immediate and longer-term needs that we now see."
"With our collective help, the men and women of Afghanistan are not just hoping for a better future, they are building it," Powell said. "With our sustained assistance, they will succeed. Without it, they will surely fail. We have seen what an Afghanistan abandoned to chaos can do to international peace and security."
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said the Afghan government expects a $165 million budget shortfall between now and March. Afghanistan will need steady infusions of cash until the economy can generate sufficient tax revenues and the government can organize well enough to collect taxes, O'Neill said.
"They are dependent on our timely funds for their essential needs," O'Neill said. "Without credit or reserves, the Afghani government is living month-to-month, in clear sight of chaos, competing with warlords and terrorists for sway."