- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As a matter of history, destroying something has always been easier than creating it. For Afghanistan, three decades of conflict leveled the country’s institutions and tore at its social fabric. And while the last six years of reconstruction have been marked by positive achievements, we still have a long way to go.

The Paris Support Conference that takes place today is an important opportunity for Afghanistan and its international partners to review our joint achievements and correct our shortcomings. More importantly, it is a chance to share ideas on tackling the remaining obstacles in our arduous journey toward joining the international community as a progressive, democratic and prosperous nation.

Since the Bonn Agreement in November 2001, we have taken important steps toward realizing this vision. The contours of a democracy have emerged from the rubble of the Taliban’s totalitarian regime. The bases have been set for an open society and a dynamic economy. For the first time in more than 30 years, a new sense of hope for a peaceful future has spread from Badakhshan to Helmand - particularly among the country’s youth.

It is imperative that our joint commitment and investment be consistent, adequate and appropriate to such a vision for Afghanistan. The simultaneous process of rebuilding and transforming Afghanistan cannot be achieved on the cheap or by contradictory objectives and forces.

By presenting our national development strategy in Paris, we will call upon our international partners to make the process of rebuilding our state institutions the pivotal objective of their assistance. Other objectives - including anti-terrorism, counter-narcotics, economic development and poverty-reduction - should be pursued in relation to the central goal of building a strong, democratic and responsive Afghan state.

We will also highlight the urgent need to address the poor and in some cases unacceptable lack of coordination in development projects and aid distribution. Poor coordination, duplication of efforts and inadequate transparency are visible among different agencies of individual nations, among Afghan government bodies, among the members of the international community and between the Afghan government and its international partners. Our joint strength in rebuilding Afghanistan will never be fully evident if our efforts are fragmented and redundant.

Reiterating our joint responsibility to the Afghan people and to the taxpayers of the donor community will be another priority. Corruption both evaporates the scarce and urgent resources for reconstruction and undermines the trust between Afghanistan and its international partners. Our failure to jointly combat corruption will also weaken future progress as Afghan citizens would come to associate democracy with corruption, anarchy and impunity. Corruption and inefficiency should be addressed domestically and internationally. For example, it is vital for us to discuss how almost 50 percent of the $15 billion in aid money allocated since 2001 is repatriated to the donor nations instead of remaining within Afghanistan.

Above all, both Afghanistan and the international community should seize the opportunity in Paris to stress their commitment to Afghanistan - and to make clear the high price of failure.

We cannot afford to fail in Afghanistan. Failure would have unimaginable consequences for Afghanistan, the region and the world. The Taliban’s access to thousands of madrassas in Pakistan, millions of unemployed young men in the region, a willing partner in al Qaeda, the proceeds of the drug trade and the flow of external military and intelligence expertise have provided them with the confidence and the tools to focus on recapturing the state of Afghanistan - and beyond. This lethal cocktail requires a comprehensive strategy that addresses its sources, structures and symptoms.

As the most important agents of peace and change, the Afghan people are determined to join the family of democracies while maintaining their national and Islamic heritage. Afghanistan’s rich natural resources, our energized young population, our entrepreneurial spirit and the country’s location as the crossroads between the world’s most important regions and emerging powers are strategic assets that will enable the Afghan nation to realize its long-overdue dreams. To that end, the sustained support and resolve of the international community is vital.

In Paris, we should reassure the people of Afghanistan and the world - skeptics included - of the clarity of our vision, our patience and our determination to successfully complete this critical and worthy journey. Only then will we be able to turn the tide of destruction in Afghanistan.

Rangin D. Spanta is Afghani-stan’s foreign minister.

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