70 countries to meet in London renew support for Afghanistan

Kabul, January 27, 2006 (AFP) - Afghanistan's international partners gather in London next week to renew their support for the country.

Last year Afghanistan completed a political transition with the first full parliamentary elections in around three decades, made possible following the ouster of the hardline Taliban regime in a US-led operation in 2001. The January 31-February 1 conference will push the process to a new level, maintaining pressure on donors while reassuring Afghanistan that its "special relationship with the international community will remain strong," according to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Annan will be joined at the meeting by President Hamid Karzai, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, along with representatives from around 70 other nations and multilateral institutions.

The conference will see the Afghan government and its donors -- who fund more than 90 percent of the country's budget -- sign a five-year development plan called the Afghanistan Compact.

Only a few countries, notably principle donor the United States, are expected to announce new commitments, with the others having already announced theirs for the coming years. The final figure is likely to see international aid to Afghanistan stabilize in 2006 to about 4.5 billion dollars.

In the compact, the government and its donors will pledge to work together to build a "prosperous and stable" Afghanistan by tackling an increasing insurgency, building the capacity of the government and human rights, and rooting out poverty.

The document outlines certain ambitious targets for the next five years, such as building the army to number up to 70,000 soldiers, linking 40 percent of villages with roads, and getting electricity to 65 percent of urban households and 25 percent of rural ones.

The four years following the toppling of the extremist regime were focused on the delivery of emergency aid and putting in place political institutions, including the finalization of a constitution and presidential and parliamentary elections.

The compact outlines the longer and more complicated task of building a solid and democratic Afghan state. It signifies the conviction within the international community that Afghanistan should not be abandoned as it was after its Soviet occupiers were forced out in 1989. This resulted in a bloody civil war three years

later and left the way open for the Taliban to seize power in 1996.

"We don't want the country to reverse -- that's a lesson that we've learnt from the past," said Amira Haq, UN deputy special representative to Afghanistan. "Afghanistan is still in a situation where it requires special attention and it will remain on assistance for a long time. Huge and difficult challenges remain to be addressed, like the alleviation of poverty," she said.

The country's development strategy, from which the compact is drawn, should allow reconstruction work "to go ahead in a manner that is more efficient and transparent," said Jean Mazurelle, country director for the World Bank. "Even if we do not meet all our objectives, this will create dynamism," he said.