Kabul: Afghanistan will ask for more control of billions of dollars pledged to reconstruct the war-torn country at a major international conference this month.
Critics accuse the government of squandering millions in foreign aid, but President Hamid Karzai says most waste occurs on development projects outside official control, and he wants direct access to more of the $13 billion pot.
The Kabul Conference, scheduled for July 20-21, will draw foreign ministers from more than 60 nations to Afghanistan, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, to review government projects the international community hopes will kick start the economy.
Western diplomats, in a series of background briefings ahead of the gathering, said they expected presentations detailing how billions already committed would be spent in perhaps the most crucial year for the country since the Taliban`s 2001 ousting.
"This is probably the most important meeting Afghanistan has ever held," said one.
International donors frequently complain that millions spent on Afghanistan has been wasted through incompetence or graft, but the government -- while acknowledging problems -- says it has been responsible for only 20 percent of the money spent, and most of that has been well managed.
President Karzai wants at least 50 percent of nearly $13 billion pledged for the next five years to be channeled through government coffers, but donors first want anti-graft guarantees.
"I think what we`re going to see is the government of Afghanistan present a credible programme ... on what they`re going to deliver in the next few years," Sir William Patey, the British Ambassador to Afghanistan, told Reuters last week on the sidelines of a London forum.
"What they will be looking for from the international community is some commitment to channel more of the pledged assistance to the Afghan government, so that it builds up capacity of the Afghan government."
With the Taliban insurgency stronger despite around 150,000 foreign troops in the country, Afghanistan`s partners hope a security crackdown coupled with a drive to improve governance will pave the way for major infrastructure projects to start.
Ten dollar Taliban
Creating government jobs will also discourage thousands of young, unemployed Afghans from joining the insurgency as "$10 Taliban," the fighters-for-hire that Washington says fill the ranks of the militants.
"At this conference we are not looking for donations," Mines Minister Waheedullah Shahrani said at the weekend.
"What we ask for is that the international community should provide assistance for the implementation of projects that have already been promised to the Afghan people."
After decades of war, Afghanistan`s estimated $12 billion economy yields a per capita GDP of just $435, but the country sits on $3 trillion in untapped mineral wealth as well as being strategically located as a conduit for trade between central Asia and the Indian subcontinent.