On the final day of the Afghanistan donor conference in Berlin, the international community agreed to aid the country in its battle against drugs and committed its troops to work to increase security ahead of elections.
Coming one day after donor nations offered billions of dollars in financial support for Afghanistan, the delegations from 56 countries on Thursday pledged to Afghan President Hamid Karzai that his government would not be left alone in its attempts to stabilize the war-torn country.
NATO members told Karzai that troops from the ISAF peacekeeping force would stay in Afghanistan until the local authorities could ensure security.
Donor countries pledged a total of $8.2 billion in aid over the next three years to Afghanistan on the first day of the conference on Wednesday. The country is set to receive $4.4 billion of the sum by March 20, 2005. The World Bank estimated that Afghanistan would need $27.5 billion over the next seven years for reconstruction.
Karzai's assessment of the two-day conference was a positive one: "I am a very satisfied man today."
Stabilization a priority before elections
Conference participants are also discussing how to stabilize the country, which is still plagued by lawlessness and poor security conditions, particularly in the remote mountainous regions outside the capital of Kabul.
Regional warlords and tribal chiefs control whole areas of Afghanistan, pursuing their own interests, which often run counter to those of the central government. One of the main issues at the conference is providing a safe backdrop for the first free presidential and parliamentary elections in September.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), currently led by NATO and composed of 5,500 troops from numerous countries is charged with ensuring security in Kabul and its surroundings. Germany has 2,000 soldiers among the ISAF troops, including a provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in Kunduz in the north of the country.
NATO on Thursday said it may sent up to five new PRTs to Afghanistan and Italy said it would send 300 troops. Germany is also likely send an extra 250 troops to help keep the peace. Berlin is also helping to train Afghan police.
Conference delegates also said they would step up the battle against production and trafficking of illegal drugs in and around Afghanistan.
"Drugs and warlordism and terrorism reinforce each other," Karzai said. "For Afghanistan to have peace, we have to address all three at the same time."
An anti-drug treaty signed by Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan foresees close cooperation in fighting the flourishing drug trade and opium production as well as consumption. Police and intelligence services will work together to create a so-called "security belt," to cut off drug smugglers' access to the border.
Experts from the countries involved will meet in Kabul by June to push forward the anti-drug accord, worked out under British auspices. "A stable Afghanistan with a strong central government is essential to counter-narcotics efforts," the agreement stated.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, whose country hosted the conference in Berlin, said the agreement was an important step and pledged Germany's support in putting it into practice.
The accord comes on the heels of Karzai's warning to the conference delegates from 56 countries that the drug trade and opium cultivation "are threatening the very existence of the Afghan state."
Indeed, 80 percent of the opium poppies -- from which heroin is derived -- grown worldwide come from Afghanistan. Along with disarming warlords and militias, the fight against the drug trade remains one of the most daunting challenges facing the country.www.dw-world.de/english/0,3367,1430_A_1158273_1_A,00.htmlE-mail this article