Clinton makes unannounced Kabul visit before donor meeting
KABUL, July 7 — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an unannounced visit to Kabul today to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the eve of a donors’ conference in Tokyo to pledge aid for Afghanistan.
US officials with Clinton declined to say how much aid the United States would pledge at the Tokyo meeting, nor how much was expected to be committed overall as the international community seeks to back the Afghan economy and prevent the country from sliding back into chaos as foreign troops withdraw.
Participants are expected to commit just under US$4 billion (RM12.7 billion) a year in development aid for Afghanistan at the meeting tomorrow, though the central bank has said the country needs at least US$6 billion a year to foster economic growth over the next decade.
“I think both the overall hard number of the international assistance as well as the US percentage of that number will be coming down,” said one senior official travelling with Clinton.
The peak year for development aid was 2010, when more than US$6 billion was given, two-thirds from the United States. Now, donor fatigue and war weariness are taking their toll on how long the global community is willing to support Afghanistan.
US officials said they expected countries at the conference to pledge to keep their civilian foreign aid for Afghanistan at or around the levels they have given in recent years, but acknowledged that the trend lines for such aid were heading down.
Major donors and aid organisations have warned that weak political will and graft could prevent funds reaching the right people at a critical time, when fragile gains in health and education could be lost if funding does not continue.
Assuaging those fears, the US official added: “But that (amount) is still high enough and specific enough to show that there is a true commitment by the entire international community.”
US officials may be reluctant to cite a specific pledge because the sum actually given is ultimately controlled by the US Congress, which holds the US government’s purse strings. Enthusiasm for foreign aid has generally waned in Congress because of massive US budget deficits.
Clinton’s talks with Karzai were expected to touch on efforts to achieve reconciliation with the Taliban, the US official added. — Reuters