- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

LONDON — The Bush administration said yesterday it would ask Congress for more than $1 billion in next year’s budget to continue helping Afghanistan’s security and reconstruction.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the pledge at a conference in London, where more than 70 countries and organizations signed a pact to support Afghanistan’s development over the next five years.

“The transformation of Afghanistan is remarkable but, of course, still incomplete, and it is essential that we all increase our support for the Afghan people,” Miss Rice said.

“In addition to our current commitment of nearly $6 billion, today, I’m proud to announce that President Bush will ask our Congress for $1.1 billion in new assistance to support the Afghan people in the next year.”

Foreign aid accounted for about 90 percent of Afghanistan’s budget last year, and most of it came from the United States, which has spent more than $10 billion since the Taliban’s fall in 2001.

Other nations at the conference promised to continue their financial support, but only Britain offered a set amount, pledging about $880 million in new aid over the next three years.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai thanked the donors and said that their past contributions had helped improve the lives of millions of Afghans.

International donors pledged $8.7 billion over four years for Afghanistan’s reconstruction at a 2004 conference in Berlin, said Ashraf Haidari, first secretary of the Afghan Embassy in Washington. Most countries have delivered on those pledges, Mr. Haidari said.

He said officials in Kabul have expressed frustration that the money was channeled not through the Afghan government but through private aid groups and international contractors and was “largely wasted.”

“We were happy with the level of funding but not with the way it was disbursed,” Mr. Haidari said.

At a press conference in Kabul yesterday, former Afghan Planning Minister Ramazan Bashardost called for sweeping personnel changes in government and aid agencies.

“The people are asking themselves, ‘If these billions of dollars have been donated, which of our pains have they remedied, what ointment has been put on our wounds?’” he said.

The Afghanistan Compact, the five-year blueprint offered yesterday, was intended as a successor to a process that began in Bonn in 2001 and led to presidential and parliamentary elections and the adoption of a constitution.

Even as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other participants in the London conference praised Afghanistan’s achievements, they demanded government action to address problems with security, corruption, poverty and narcotics.

Last year was the deadliest in Afghanistan since 2001, with about 1,600 people killed in militant violence, including 91 U.S. troops. There have been 20 suicide bombings in the past four months.

• David R. Sands contributed to this report.

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