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Last Updated: Monday, 30 January 2006, 08:35 GMT
Why Afghanistan remains work in progress

By Andrew North
BBC News, Kabul

Four years after the Taleban were overthrown, Afghan leaders and international donors will meet in London this week to discuss the country's future. They will be trying to agree a blueprint for the continuing efforts to rebuild and stabilise the country.

Hamid Karzai
Hamid Karzai knows things might get worse before they get better

Despite progress in building up a new government, there is mounting concern over security - amid a recent rise in suicide attacks blamed on Taleban fighters - and frustration among many Afghans at the slow pace of change in their daily lives.

The Afghanistan Compact, a five-year security and development blueprint due to be signed in London acknowledges "Afghanistan's transition to peace and stability is not yet assured".

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will jointly host the two-day meeting. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice will also be there, along with foreign ministers and officials from 70 other countries.


At the heart of this meeting is the issue of trying to make the Afghan government and the international aid it receives more effective, so that people see real benefits as a result of the political changes of the past few years.

The elections of President Karzai in 2004 and a parliament the following year have given Afghanistan the most democratic government it has ever had - even if there is still dismay about the large number of "warlord" figures who won seats to the new assembly.

The problem is that this new Afghan government is still too poor to do very much. Almost all its running costs, from salaries to heating bills, are met by international donors.

December 2001: US-led forces drive Taleban from power
June 2002: Hamid Karzai named interim head of state
January 2004: New constitution adopted
October 2004: Presidential elections held, which Hamid Karzai wins
December 2005: Elected parliament meets for first time

Some Afghan officials want to see more aid money in future to go through Afghan government hands, rather than as at present through NGOs.

"At least 50% of the aid should be going to the government within the next five years," Rural Development Minister Hanif Atmar told the BBC.

In principle, many western donors agree with this - but concerns remain about massive corruption.

"We don't deny it is there," Mr Atmar says. But he insists that much tighter safeguards are in place now. "Don't use corruption as a reason not to keep giving us aid."

What are the factors that have led to more production of poppies than in the Taliban era?
Muhammad Arshad, Pakistan

You see the results of the government's weakness everywhere. In the cities big new, privately-funded buildings have gone up but next door there are houses with no electricity and roads with the same potholes they have had since the 1990s civil war.

In the rural areas health facilities are among the worst in the world.

Tired of war?

Overshadowing all this is the continuing violence.

Afghans playing the national game of buzkashi in Kabul
Can Afghanistan survive without international aid?

"If anyone has a regret about the past four years it's that terrorist acts such as those we have been seeing in the south recently are still possible," said one senior western official in the run-up to this conference.

But Afghan officials argue there is not widespread support for the continuing Taleban insurgency or other sources of violence. They say Afghans are tired of war.

The problem, they say, lies across the border in Pakistan, which they accuse of sheltering many of the militants involved in the attacks.

Only when this issue is addressed, they say, can development get going in the southern and eastern areas of the country where the violence is most severe.

The issue will be on the conference agenda but few expect any major changes as a result.

So to address all this, the compact, a final draft of which was obtained by the BBC, sets out benchmarks of progress that must be achieved over the next five years in areas such as security, development, better government and tackling the country's illegal drugs trade.

British Afghans share a joke with a British soldier on Salisbury Plain
A soldier shares a joke with British Afghans during a training exercise
The targets include building up the national army to 70,000 soldiers, linking 40% of villages with roads, and getting electricity to 65% of urban households and 25% of rural ones.

It also states that all US-led "counter-terrorism operations will be conducted in close coordination with the Afghan government and Isaf", the Nato-led peacekeeping force - an acknowledgement of past Afghan concerns about the political fallout of heavy-handed American tactics.

'Money is crucial'

In pre-conference briefings in Afghanistan, officials have stressed this is not a pledging meeting, although the US and a few other countries are expected to announce some new aid packages.

But money is crucial.

Before the last major international meeting on rebuilding Afghanistan, in Berlin in April 2004, the Afghan government said it would need at least $4bn a year to rebuild for the following seven years.

And that is perhaps the big problem for Afghanistan - where is the money going to come from in the future?

With so many problems, after so many years of war, can the country ever survive without aid? It is not something this conference will address.

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