- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

Appealing plaintively for help from the international community, Afghan ministers assured U.S. officials yesterday that their country is secure and will be even safer when foreign assistance begins to flow into Kabul.
The ministers gathered under tight security at Georgetown University to discuss with U.S. experts how to go about rebuilding their war-ravaged country from scratch. At least seven Afghan ministers were in attendance, and Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah was to address the group yesterday.
The ministers stopped by the White House for a photo opportunity with President Bush, whom Mr. Abdullah called "a great friend" of Afghanistan. The foreign minister downplayed the recent assassination of an Afghan vice president, saying continued problems with security in Kabul and the rest of the country are being addressed even as the killing is investigated.
"The security situation has improved a great deal," Mr. Abdullah said. "Six months ago and today, we cannot compare it."
As soon as the sessions convened yesterday, the ministers complained they could do little about Afghanistan's problems, especially security, unless they receive a larger share of the money promised at a reconstruction conference in Tokyo earlier this year.
"We're starting from zero in every sector," said Adib Farhadi, director of economic affairs. "The Tokyo conference was a contract for us. We think we have fulfilled our part of the contract. It is now for the international community to fulfill their end of the contract, which is for the aid to come in."
International donors pledged $4.5 billion, of which Afghanistan has received roughly $1 billion. But more than half the money has gone toward food and humanitarian assistance, which, in turn, "makes the people lazy," said the country's reconstruction minister, Mohammed Farhang.
Once the costs of logistics and security are considered, Mr. Farhadi said, only about $150 million is left for reconstruction.
"I can clearly say reconstruction in Afghanistan has not begun," he said.
Donors are leery of relinquishing dollars while Afghanistan appears unstable. The Afghan ministers, aware of the problem, say they are doing the best they can, given the lack of infrastructure in their government.
"This assistance should take place according to our priorities. It should not be dictated to us," Mr. Farhang said. "Please don't ask us where is security if reconstruction hasn't started. That is being used as an excuse. Without reconstruction, there is no security."
The administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, said the impatience of the Afghans is understandable, considering a quarter-century of war, but that they realize this process will take many years.
Mr. Natsios said the reconstruction effort is focused on rural areas because Afghanistan's economy has been primarily agrarian.
He said USAID had rebuilt about 70,000 homes and about 30 schools in rural areas since last October.


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