- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

The chairman of Afghanistan's interim government, Hamid Karzai, is visiting Washington this week. On Sunday, Mr. Karzai met with members of the local Afghan and Afghan-American community at a mosque in Annandale and at Georgetown University. On Monday, he met at the White House with President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and on Capitol Hill with congressional leaders.

Yesterday, Mr. Karzai met with representatives from international aid organizations and with American business leaders to discuss how the U.S. companies can help rebuild his war-ravaged country. Mr. Karzai says that Afghanistan's future will depend heavily on the recovery of the private sector. Afghanistan has a rich history of entrepreneurship. The revival of the private sector is critical for jump-starting economic activity, sustaining recovery in the long term, and providing the social and economic basis for a civil society.

One group, the Washington-based U.S.-Afghanistan Reconstruction Council (US-ARC) is working to recruit Americans and Afghan-Americans with experience in engineering and construction, agriculture, telecommunications, banking and finance, transportation, education, health care and other key industries for pilot projects in cities and towns across Afghanistan.

The need for reconstruction is enormous. Afghans are now trying to get together to rebuild their country. Mr. Karzai said in his speech at Georgetown Sunday evening that Afghanistan needs a massive infusion of foreign investment. It's time for the private sector to join governments and international organizations in investing in Afghanistan's future.

A week ago in Tokyo, representatives from 60 countries and 22 international organizations pledged $4.5 billion to establish a reconstruction fund for war-ravaged Afghanistan. The conference was sponsored by the governments of Japan, the United States and Saudi Arabia, and by the European Union (EU).

The $4.5 billion is a substantial amount, but international aid experts estimate Afghanistan will need $15 billion over the next decade to begin the process of recovering from 23 years of war.

In Tokyo, Mr. Powell pledged $296 million in U.S. reconstruction assistance, calling it the first installment in a long-term U.S. commitment to help Afghanistan. Of the U.S. total, $121.9 million is earmarked for food aid, $72 million for international disaster assistance and $52.6 million for refugee assistance.

Recent history suggests that American companies can play a vital role in getting reconstruction projects under way in Afghanistan. American engineering and construction, agribusiness, heavy equipment, electronics, telecommunications, aircraft and aerospace, energy, environmental and waste remediation firms financial institutions and management consulting firms have all gained valuable experience in the past decade working to rebuild the shattered economies of Eastern and Central Europe, the former Soviet Union and other regions.

In the past five years, thousands of U.S. companies have contributed their resources and skills to reconstruction efforts in war-torn places like Bosnia- Herzegovina and Kosovo; in earthquake-shattered Turkey; in flooded-ravaged Venezuela, and hurricane-battered Central America and the Caribbean.

The reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan must focus on high-impact projects that quickly create jobs, generate income, get money flowing through the economy again, rebuild critical infrastructure and encourage the successful return of the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons.

The pledges made in Tokyo mark the first full-scale show of support from the international community for the ravaged country. These pledges are based on a Preliminary Needs Assessment Report prepared jointly by the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. The assessment calls for $5 billion from the international community for the first two-and-a-half years, with an overall figure of $15 billion over 10 years. It outlines the needs for rebuilding a shattered infrastructure and economy, while also jump-starting the country's recovery.

Most of the initial assistance will go toward rebuilding administrative and government institutions, job creation, agricultural development, roads, bridges and public works, education and security. U.S. firms can bring immediate and substantial resources to these tasks.

Almost everything in Afghanistan is in a shambles. Eighty percent of the country's bridges and roads have been damaged or destroyed. In Kabul, one-third of the public buildings and 40 percent of the homes and apartment buildings have been destroyed. There is a shortage of water and electricity. Half the country's schools have been destroyed, another quarter damaged. The government is bankrupt. At least 700,000 people face starvation and exposure to bitter winter weather.

Afghanistan was one of the world's poorest countries even before the U.S-led bombing campaign. Life expectancy is 44 years, one of four children die before age 5, and only three in 100 girls are enrolled in primary school.

Mr. Karzai says his country has seen "nothing but disaster, war, brutality and depravation against its people for so many years." But he also says the people of Afghanistan are united, filled with hope, and ready to work hard to rebuild their country.

The United States and the international community must not abandon Mr. Karzai, his interim government and the people of Afghanistan. The donors' conference in Tokyo marked an important first step. Now is the time to enlist the private sector in the vital effort; U.S. companies stand ready to help rebuild Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai's current visit to Washington provides the opportunity to begin that important work.

William S. Loiry is president of Equity International, a Washington-based firm that has hosted international conferences on reconstruction and development.

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