Monday, March 23, 2009

UN envoy says donor aid is fragmenting Afghanistan

By John Heilprin

Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — International donors are plowing as much as $1 billion into Afghanistan without going through the government, ultimately hurting the broader development effort, the U.N.'s top envoy to that nation said Thursday.

Because of that, Afghan and U.N. officials lack an overall picture of how much aid is available or spent for specific purposes, Kai Eide of Norway told the U.N. Security Council.

"I believe that the use of between $500 million and $1 billion are never reported to the Afghan government," he said. "As a result of the lack of coordination and transparency, large parts of the national development strategy will go unfunded."

Eide said donors lack confidence in the government because of its inability to coordinate or account for aid, so they bypass the central government in Kabul and focus on the provinces. Donors also have been demanding that Afghanistan confront pervasive government corruption.

But Eide also urged the council to extend the $168 million-a-year U.N. mission in Afghanistan for another year before its mandate expires on Monday.

Afghanistan's U.N. Ambassador Zahir Tanin told the council "we cannot expect results immediately" after a half-century of war. But he acknowledged "there should be greater Afghan oversight" of major international aid.

A U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime in 2001, but militants have regained control of large swathes of the country and U.S. and NATO forces have been unable to reverse the gains.

There are now 70,000 international troops in Afghanistan operating alongside Afghan forces, Eide said.

Last month, President Barack Obama ordered 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, a likely down payment on the request by ground commanders to double the U.S. force to 60,000.

The move follows Obama's promise to shift the U.S. focus to Afghanistan and away from Iraq.

The United States' top priority now is Afghanistan's presidential and provincial council elections in August, three months after the expiration of President Hamid Karzai's term on May 22, U.S. diplomat Rosemary DiCarlo told the council.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador John Sawers told the council that diplomats call every year the most critical one yet for Afghanistan, but that "it's probably even more true this year."

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