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Sunday, 20 January, 2002, 16:55 GMT
Aid lifeline for Afghanistan
Afghan prisoners
The US and EU fear that poverty breeds extremism
By the BBC's regional analyst Pam O'Toole

More than 50 nations are sending high level representatives to Tokyo for Monday's international pledging conference for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

A report to be presented to the conference estimates that Afghanistan will need about $15bn of recovery and reconstruction aid over the next decade.

Top names attending the Tokyo meeting include US Secretary of State Colin Powell, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and the heads of UN agencies spearheading the current humanitarian aid effort in Afghanistan.

Afghan child
Years of conflict have devastated Afghanistan
This is the international community's first major opportunity to demonstrate its support for Afghanistan's interim government, sworn in just a month ago.

The pledging of huge amounts of aid is regarded as crucial to help shore up domestic support for that administration, which has yet to establish control over the whole of Afghanistan.

The co-chairs of the conference - the United States, the European Union, Japan and Saudi Arabia - are also likely to be among the biggest donors, if for different reasons.

Interests converge

The United States and the EU, in particular, will be hoping that a more stable, less poverty-stricken Afghanistan will no longer be a haven for Islamic extremists.

The Europeans - along with Afghanistan's western neighbour, Iran - will also be keen to back projects to help Afghanistan reduce its massive drugs production.

From the Afghan interim government's point of view, this pledging conference is crucial

Afghanistan produces 90% of the heroin reaching Western Europe, and Afghan drug smugglers are responsible for major problems of criminality and insecurity along the Iran-Afghan border.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is likely to use the conference to draw a line under its early support for the Taleban.

It was one of only three states to recognise the Taleban administration when it took power in Kabul in 1996, although it later withdrew that recognition because of the Islamic movement's refusal to hand over Osama Bin Laden.

Poppy field in Afghanistan
The EU and Iran are worried about opium production in Afghanistan
Japan, although geographically remote from Afghanistan, is also keen to see a source of instability in that region removed. Tokyo has traditionally used aid as a way of increasing its international influence.

From the Afghan interim government's point of view, this pledging conference is crucial.

It desperately needs large amounts of international aid to win the continued support of a poverty-stricken, war weary and cynical population who are looking for an immediate improvement in their living standards

UN refugee agency spokesman Yusuf Hassan
"There's a considerable increase in the number of people forced out of their homes"
See also:

20 Jan 02 | South Asia
Karzai optimistic over Afghan funds
21 Dec 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan hopes for global aid
12 Nov 01 | South Asia
UN prepares major Afghan relief effort
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