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The London Donors’ Conference: Continued International Support Key to Afghanistan’s Future
By M. Ashraf Haidari

The Washington Diplomat

January 5, 2006

Daily violence and suicide bombings in Iraq tend to grab international headlines and have overshadowed the security situation in Afghanistan, where the people strongly support the war on terrorism. The rise in insurgent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan is frequently reported on, but the fact that the Afghan people are a strategic ally of the international community in the war against terrorism receives less media attention. It is the tragedy of our recent past, punctuated by countless atrocities committed against Afghans, that renders our people supportive of international efforts to build peace and democracy in our country.

The will of the Afghan people to move forward for a better future remains the driving force behind the ongoing state-building process. An ABC News poll conducted last October in Afghanistan found that despite many socio-economic deprivations, “77 percent of Afghans say their country is headed in the right direction. Ninety-one percent prefer the current Afghan government to the Taliban regime, and 87 percent call the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban good for their country.”

However, as democracy solidifies in Afghanistan, popular expectations for better living conditions rise. Afghans increasingly demand dividends in return for their investment in democracy and partnership with the international community. The positive findings of the ABC poll are more an expression of Afghans’ “better hopes for the future” than satisfaction with their basic needs having been met.

Our population of 25 million consists of peasants demanding alternative livelihoods to poppy cultivation; refugees demanding reintegration aid to rebuild their lives; landmine victims demanding welfare to escape psycho-social degradation; former combatants demanding jobs to avoid resorting to crime and violence; and women and children demanding education and healthcare to build the future of Afghanistan. In sum, Afghans ask for enough moral and material support to enable them to stand on their own feet as soon as possible.

Afghanistan has so far received less per-capita aid than all other post-conflict countries, and the picture has to change soon if the international community hopes to sustain popular support in winning the war on terrorism and building democracy in Afghanistan. As ABC News reported, “This poll finds broad expectations—expressed by two-thirds of Afghanistan—that life overall will improve in the year ahead. That optimism, while encouraging, also carries the danger of discontent if those expectations go unmet.”

The poll points to a crucial fact in that the international community should do more to sustain the trust of Afghans in democracy and their support as a strategic asset in the fight against terrorism. The Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents are keenly aware of the vulnerable human environment in Afghanistan where they operate. They know that the slowing reconstruction process will over time turn the tables in their favor. Put simply, freedom’s greatest enemy in Afghanistan is not the Taliban or Al Qaeda but weak democratic institutions incapable of delivering basic services to the people.

However, it is not too late for the international community to recommit itself to the absolute success of democracy in Afghanistan, thereby securing the country’s future. The January 2006 donors’ conference in London presents an opportunity for our international partners to help the people of Afghanistan stand on their own feet.

The main purpose of the conference is to discuss Afghanistan’s National Development Strategy and finance it for the long haul. This strategy calls for an integrated aid package that simultaneously addresses Afghanistan’s security, governance and development needs on a long-term basis. Two choices will be set before the donors: 1) pledging long-term support will expand Afghanistan’s democracy and freedom; 2) showing fatigue will encourage the forces of evil and terror to undo our achievements of the past four years.

The Afghan people hope the choice for freedom and democracy will prevail.

M. Ashraf Haidari is first secretary at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C., and was peace scholar and Foreign Service fellow at Georgetown University from 2002 to 2005. He can be reached by e-mail at Haidari@embassyofafghanistan.org

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