By Taro Ichikawa
TOKYO (IDN) - Japan is Afghanistan's second largest donor behind the United States. Since the Tokyo Conference in January 2002, it has provided $3.3 billion till the end of 2011, to support political processes, assist infrastructural, agricultural and industrial development, help meet basic human needs, and promote Afghan culture that has profoundly suffered in the past about three decades.
Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba announced at the Tokyo Conference 2012 – convened to chart future assistance for Afghanistan, ahead of the withdrawal of 100,000 foreign combat troops stationed in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 – that Japan will provide "up to around three billion dollars of assistance to Afghanistan in about five years from 2012 in the field of socio-economic development and enhancement of security capabilities".
Gemba told representatives from 70 countries – including Afghan President Hamid Karzai – and international organizations that Japan will assist Afghanistan in three priority areas of economic social development based on Afghanistan’s development strategy,
These include the agricultural sector in which about 80 percent of the Afghan labour force is engaged, infrastructure and human resource development. Gemba expressed the country's intention to continue to provide contribution to the Afghan-led nation-building even after 2017 through assistance in that area as well.
In order to further strengthen regional cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours, Japan announced that it is implementing projects worth around $1 billion in neighbouring countries, and through these projects it would support the development of the corridor which goes across Afghanistan from Central Asia to Karachi in Pakistan.
The significance of such commitments as those of the international community totalling $16 billion in aid through 2015 for Afghanistan's economic and development sectors cannot be over-emphasised. The pledge came as Afghanistan reportedly agreed to new conditions to deal with endemic corruption that is eating into arduous development efforts.
The World Bank has calculated that Afghanistan will need $3.3 billion to $3.9 billion in annual non-security spending for those first three years of the transition to cover a shortfall in its gross domestic product of just over $17 billion.
The development aid announcement come on top of $4.1 billion pledged in May 2012 at a NATO conference in Chicago to fund the Afghan National Security Forces from 2015 to 2017.
As the World Food Programme points out, Afghanistan faces enormous recovery needs after three decades of war, civil unrest and recurring natural disasters. Despite recent progress, millions of Afghans still live in severe poverty with a crumbling infrastructure and a landscape that is suffering from environmental damage. This rugged, landlocked country remains one of the poorest in the world, with more than half the population living below the poverty line.
The 2007-2008 National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (NRVA) found that 7.4 million people – nearly a third of the population – are unable to get enough food to live active, healthy lives. Another 8.5 million people, or 37 percent of the entire population, are on the borderline of food insecurity. Besides, some 400,000 people each year are seriously affected by natural disasters, such as droughts, floods, earthquakes or extreme weather conditions.
Help in Quest for Security
Against this backdrop, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the international community to continue its engagement with and support for Afghanistan. "We must all continue to stand with the people of Afghanistan in their quest for security, stability and prosperity. An Afghanistan at peace with itself would at long last respond to its peoples' hopes of better lives for themselves and their children," he said.
"And an Afghanistan living in harmony with its neighbours, near and far, would make a tremendous contribution to regional and international peace and security," Ban told the Tokyo Conference participants. The gathering was the third international conference on the Central Asian nation in three months.
In his remarks to the event, the Secretary-General said that the world had reached a critical moment in Afghanistan's history, with a transition from reliance on aid that has enabled the country's institutions to take root, to a normalized relationship of a sovereign, functioning Afghanistan with its people and with its international partners.
"But let us be clear: transition must not translate into short-term measures only. We should give the people of Afghanistan the long-term prospect of a better future, and ease their worries that Afghanistan may be abandoned," Ban said.
He said: "We are all aware of serious concerns regarding Afghan delivery and accountability on governance commitments. These must be addressed in the interest of the Afghan people and also to maintain donor confidence – but we must be fully conscious that Afghanistan's institutions are still in their nascent stages."
Ban welcomed the establishment of a so-called Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework – which sets out the principles of the partnership between the international community and Afghanistan – as a means of providing confidence to Afghans and international donors that the commitments they have made to each other will be monitored and honoured.
“Donors should live up to the commitments they have made to provide predictable assistance in a way that genuinely strengthens national ownership and capacity," the UN chief said. "At the same time, it is of course Afghanistan itself that bears the primary responsibility to live up to its obligations to better serve its people in line with the commitments made in Bonn, Kabul and London."
Ban added that the UN will continue its long-running engagement with Afghanistan, noting the need for "reasonable expectations of what the United Nations can and cannot achieve."
"“In close coordination with the major stakeholders and within the limits of our limited resources, we will do our utmost to help the Afghans fill the gaps that may arise as transition deepens," he said. "That means strong support, throughout the Transformation Decade (2015-2025), for the country's economic and social development, for building its institutional capacity, for basic services and social protection, for jobs, justice and the rule of law."
According to analysts, the Tokyo Declaration emerging from the July 8 gathering shows that Kabul has made big promises. In 16 points, the diplomats have listed "joint commitments" which President Karzai should tackle in his final two years in office.
These include organizing free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014 and 2015, improving controls on financial markets and tackling rampant corruption. Some points are tied to specific dates, such as the implementation of a law condemning violence against women or establishing a fixed time frame for the upcoming elections by early 2013.
Although the paper remains vague in many aspects, diplomats secured some achievements. Their plans include a regular external review of Kabul's reforms. At least once a year, countries' senior representatives will gather to take stock of Afghanistan's progress. By 2014 there will be a follow-up conference in Britain to reassess the financial aid. The hope is that the fixed schedule will push Afghanistan to fulfill its obligations.
However, speaking in Tokyo, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle warned against inflated expectations. "We're not talking about European standards," he said, referring to corruption. "We're talking about making things a bit better."
But making things better may also turn out to be an uphill task. This is underlined by a rather vulnerable security situation once again manifested in a suicide bomber killing at least 22 and wounding more than 40 people at a wedding reception for the daughter of a prominent politician in Afghanistan on July 14.
Within less than a week of the Tokyo Declaration on 'Partnership for Self-Reliance in Afghanistan - From Transition to Transformation', the head of the United Nations agency tasked with advancing gender equality has condemned the recent violence against women in Afghanistan and stressed the need to protect their rights.
Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), noted in a statement that recent weeks have witnessed cases of "extreme abuse and appalling violence against women." They include the torture and rape of a young woman, Lal Bibi, by Afghan Local Police and the public execution of a young woman, Najiba.
"These cases have once again focused attention on the continuing and urgent need to protect women’s and girls’ rights as the world redefines its role in Afghanistan, and as the Government of Afghanistan moves forward in [its] transition," Bachelet said.
Stressing the need for concerted action, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "Afghanistan has made substantial progress with the help of the international community. . . . But now we have to ensure the strongest possible collaboration among four groups so that this decade of transformation can produce results: the Afghan Government and people, first and foremost; the international community; Afghanistan's neighbors; and the private sector. This collaboration depends on mutual accountability, and all sides have work to do and responsibilities to uphold." [IDN-InDepthNews – July 15, 2012]
Picture: Afghanistan's Heart of Marble | Credit: NATO