BRUSSELS: Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani will meet world powers at a major conference in Brussels next week in a bid to secure financial aid from the international community up to 2020 to rebuild the war-ravaged nation.
The meeting on October 4 and 5 will try to drum up support from an international community suffering from aid fatigue as it grapples with conflicts in Syria and Iraq plus the worst migration crisis since World War II.
More than 70 countries and 25 international organizations will attend the event, which comes just before the 15th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. Among the leaders coming to the meeting are US Secretary of State John Kerry, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and EU President Donald Tusk.
Financial support is “crucial” in order “to bring about a new strategic shift towards stabilization and possibly peace” in Afghanistan, despite the country not having “been in the headlines for many years”, officials said ahead of the conference.
“Nobody can afford for Afghanistan to destabilize again,” a senior EU official added.
Afghanistan is still struggling to negotiate peace with the Taliban and other militant groups who continue to wage a bloody insurgency.
The Brussels conference follows up from a meeting in Tokyo in 2012 where the international community agreed to provide four billion euros a year in funding until the end of 2016. Also at a summit in Warsaw in July this year, the NATO countries pledged $5 billion a year for local security forces for the next four years besides agreeing to maintain troop numbers in Afghanistan.
Two years ago, at a London Conference on the then newly elected Ashraf Ghani had vowed to build a more self-reliant Afghanistan.
Ghani said last week in Kabul that “in Brussels, your government will represent all of you women, men, all of you. In Brussels the world is going to reiterate their economic commitments again”.
He added: “We are taking Brussels very seriously. After we return from Brussels we have to work together, this is the importance of it.”
The international community will make pledges for the next four years but officials would not be drawn on the level of funding in comparison to the four billion euros a year agreed in Tokyo.
“The pledging exercise remains a difficult one and very fluid until the last moments,” one EU official said. “The three billion mark is passed, but we don’t know where we’ll end up.”
The EU itself will sign a state building contract of 200 million euros for 2017-2018 at the conference, honoring its commitment to an annual budget for that amount for Afghanistan.
But payouts will depend on whether Afghanistan meets its political and financial reform commitments, as well as political transparency.
EU officials expressed some optimism about Afghanistan’s human development. Under the country’s new unity government, “the speed of reforms has significantly increased when compared to previous administrations”, said an EU official.
“The Afghan government has by and large delivered on our expectations and exceeded them,” he added.
A recent diplomatic success for the country was the signing of a peace accord on September 22 with the Islamic organization Hezb-i-Islami, led by former premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
The country has also made progress in areas of women’s rights, anti-corruption measures and revenue collection.
EU officials denied that the pledges would have conditions attached, after the leak of an EU memo in March that suggested that financial pledges would be made in return for Afghanistan accepting 80,000 asylum-seekers deported from EU countries.