BRUSSELS: International donors pledged $15.2 billion at a conference in Brussels on Wednesday to get Afghanistan through the next four years, urging the Taliban to make peace after years of war.
Fifteen years almost to the day since the start of the US-led operation to topple the Taliban after 9/11, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Taliban militants to make an “honorable” peace with Kabul.
However, in Kabul a suicide bomber targeted a minibus carrying government officials, wounding four people, a day after a US soldier was killed by a bomb in the east.
As fresh fighting raged in the strategic northern city of Kunduz, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was in the Belgian capital seeking aid from officials from 75 countries and more than 20 global organizations.
Ghani hailed a “remarkable day” and vowed that his government would fulfill its commitments
In return for the new funding he has promised reforms on corruption and human rights, and also agreed to take back migrants from Europe more quickly.
At the same time, Sayed Ikram Afzali, executive director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, the sole anti-corruption watchdog until now, said donors should have set tighter conditions.
Despite fears of donor fatigue due to the Syria war, the amount pledged is only slightly less than the four billion dollars a year that world powers promised at the last Afghanistan conference in Tokyo in 2012.
“Some were skeptical that we are going to face donor fatigue after 15 years,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told a press conference alongside Ghani after the conference.
“And here we are today being able to announce that international countries pledged… 15.2 billion dollars, which is exceeding our most rosy pictures of even yesterday.”
The EU was the biggest donor with $5.6 billion, followed by the United States.
“It is our responsibility to carve a future and deliver,” he said. “That means also proposing an end to aid, not a perpetual dependence on aid.”
Afghanistan remains dependent on foreign cash and support from a limited NATO military presence.
For security, NATO nations already committed at a summit in Warsaw in July to maintain troop numbers in Afghanistan at around 13,000 and uphold a pledge of $5 billion a year to fund local forces until 2020.
But the country remains wracked by violence. Afghan forces battled the Taliban for a third day in Kunduz on Wednesday as food ran short and scores fled the city, witnesses told AFP.
Moves for a peace settlement also got a push from Mogherini, who said a dinner of regional players including China, India and Pakistan on Tuesday had “found common ground” for the Afghan peace process. She added that the EU “will try to facilitate this as much as possible in the coming months”.