Last Updated: Mon Dec 05, 2011 16:23 pm (KSA) 13:23 pm (GMT)

U.S. lifts hold on development funds for Afghanistan

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Afghan President Hamid Karzai pose for a family photo opportunity at the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn. (Reuters)
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Afghan President Hamid Karzai pose for a family photo opportunity at the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn. (Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Monday that the United States was ending a freeze on hundreds of millions of dollars in development funds for Afghanistan amid financial reforms.

“The United States is pleased to announce we will be joining other partners in resuming financial disbursements to the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund,” Clinton told a conference on Afghanistan in Bonn.

U.S. officials said the United States took its cue from the International Monetary Fund’s decision last month to approve a new loan for Afghanistan after a year of difficult talks stalled by the massive Kabul Bank scandal.

The move occurred after Afghanistan made progress in financial sector regulations.

U.S. officials said that after the IMF halted its development program in June, the United States suspended plans to disburse $650 million to $700 million dollars (520 million euros) in annual funds, paid out quarterly, to the ARTF.

The ARTF oversees a program that promotes development projects in small communities throughout Afghanistan, including projects for digging wells, building roads and developing irrigation.

U.S. officials said the United States, Britain, the European Union, Japan and Australia also froze payments to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund. But it was not clear when these countries would resume payments.

Germany’s foreign minister on Monday opened the major conference on Afghanistan’s future, vowing that the international community won't abandon the country after NATO combat troops pull out in 2014.

“The goal of this conference will be to lay the groundwork for a free, secure and prosperous Afghanistan,” Guido Westerwelle told about 1,000 delegates from around the world gathered in the western city of Bonn.

“We send a clear message to the people of Afghanistan: we will not leave you alone, you will not be abandoned. Afghanistan and its people need a clear and reliable commitment to a long-term engagement for the next decade beyond 2014.”

Westerwelle said 10 years after the September 11 attacks on the United States, the world had a vested interest in a “stable and peaceful Afghanistan which does not pose a threat.”

A previous conference in Bonn in December 2001 established an interim government for Afghanistan after US-led troops ousted the Taliban, which had offered safe harbor to al-Qaeda.

Westerwelle noted there had been “setbacks” in the decade of NATO-led operations, adding that the world had learned there would be no “military solution” in Afghanistan.

“Not all our objectives and expectations have been realistic. And yet, we have achieved a lot,” he said. “Most Afghans now enjoy more freedom, peace and security than at any time in the past 30 years.”

He said that to ensure the transition to Afghan sovereignty in 2014 is “irreversible,” Kabul “must focus on strengthening public administration, reinforcing the rule of law and fighting corruption.”

Westerwelle said the conference would also send the message that political support for Afghan reconciliation must be maintained.

“Despite severe setbacks, reconciliation is the path to durable and inclusive peace,” he said.

Finally, he said Afghanistan’s allies aimed to outline their long-term engagement on the basis of “mutual credible commitments.”

“This means continued civilian reconstruction, support for the Afghan national security forces for as long as necessary, and helping the country unlock its enormous economic potential,” he said.

“The international community must stand ready for continued practical and financial support.”

Iran to oppose foreign troops

At the conference, Iran said it would oppose to the presence of foreign troops in neighboring Afghanistan after 2014, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi reiterated on Monday, saying the continued deployment would not help Afghan stability.

Western officials foresee some role for allied forces after 2014, the agreed cut-off date for the departure of most foreign combat troops, possibly in a mix of roles including training and special forces.

Speaking at an international conference on Afghanistan, Salehi said: “Certain Western countries seek to extend their military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014 by maintaining their military bases there. We deem such an approach to be contradictory to efforts to sustain stability and security in Afghanistan.”

“We believe that any international or regional initiative to restore peace and security in Afghanistan could only be successful if they discard the presence of foreign military forces and especially ... the founding of foreign military bases in Afghanistan.”

Washington and Kabul have yet to reach an agreement which would allow it to keep some forces in Afghanistan after 2014.

Salehi also said Iran condemned what he called the violation of human rights by foreign military forces in Afghanistan including attacks on residential areas.

The foreign military presence over the past 10 years had failed to uproot terrorism and had actually made the problem worse, he said.

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