Page last updated at 19:09 GMT, Wednesday, 11 June 2008 20:09 UK

Can Paris 'juggernaut' save Afghanistan?

By David Loyn
BBC International Development correspondent

Afghans with food aid
The question is how to make aid more predictable

Two months ago, at a regular meeting of donors in Kabul, President Karzai of Afghanistan asked for a further $2bn for Afghan education.

Those present turned him down, even after he persisted with his usual charm.

"I will take your no for a yes," the president said, "I am sure you will come round."

This time "no" really does mean no. Afghanistan has not developed the capacity to spend even the money it has, let alone bid for more.

'Second civil service'

Donors meeting in Paris may pledge some more funds.

But the fourth major international conference to look at the future of Afghanistan since the fall of the Taleban is not about raising more money.

It is about trying to find a better way of improving the flow of aid and building the capacity of the Afghan government to manage affairs for itself.

Afghan opium crop

Too much of the development money committed to Afghanistan has gone straight back to donor countries in the pockets of consultants, a "second civil service", in the damning words of a recent World Bank report.

It said the consultants "had taken some of the best talent from the government and bid up the cost of scarce talent".

Two years after another World Bank report talked of a parallel system, as if an "aid juggernaut" had descended on Afghanistan.

Today it seems that little has changed.

The new report concludes that justice is the sector that is least transparent and accountable.

In these circumstances, it was not surprising that, when a BBC crew made a recent trip into the Afghan countryside, villagers we spoke to cited the corruption of the justice system as a reason why they now supported the Taleban.

'Some progress'

The World Bank concluded that there is "little to show for the estimated $1.6bn that has been spent on technical assistance since 2002".

The Paris conference will consider ways of making aid flows more predictable for the Afghan government, and channelled through their hands.

Around 65-70% of donor money is spent outside the government budget, particularly from some of the largest donors including the US and Japan.

In contrast 80% of UK money is channelled through the Afghan central government.

British trrops in Afghanistan
Foreign troops could be in Afghanistan for a long time

There has been some progress - in particular building a better road network, training the Afghan army and restoring schools.

The UK military, who are currently fighting the most intense insurgency in the country, in Helmand province, have focused on "quick impact" projects.

These include clearing wells, building schools and financing local community initiatives so that the benefits of foreign intervention are seen more clearly.

A government spokesman described the situation in Helmand as "significantly better" in the last six months.

But nationally the levels of crime and corruption, fuelled by the world's largest opium crops, have led to diminished enthusiasm for foreign forces.

More refugees are applying to leave the country again, and the Red Cross has reported having less access to outlying areas than at any time during the 30-year conflict, because of the security situation.

The challenges for the Paris conference are daunting.

The Afghan government will present a new five-year national development strategy. But two years after the last donors' conference in London, the key benchmarks set then for improvement have still not been met.

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