Beyond "empty promises"?

A high-profile international donor conference in Kabul on 20 July will not immediately end Afghanistan’s deep and long-standing problems but, if managed properly, could help identify key challenges and solutions, aid workers and diplomats say.



Officials say the conference will not be a pledging event but the government will ask donors to spend at least half of their funds through national channels. Donors have disbursed about US$40 billion on assistance to Afghanistan over the past eight years but the government has said it only received about 20 percent of the funds.



“So many of the previous conferences have promised the world, but ended up delivering very little,” Ashley Jackson, head of policy and advocacy with Oxfam International in Kabul and author of a report addressed to participants at the conference, told IRIN.



The 19 July report entitled Promises, Promises reminds donors and the government that Afghans need action not “empty promises”.



“Afghans are tired of conferences,” Oxfam said in a press release adding that it was the ninth major international conference about Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. 

































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The government and some donors, however, back the conference and point out that progress has been made in various areas over the past eight years.



“It’s an Afghan-led and Afghan-organized [conference] in which the government will define the future and we, the international community, will realign our support behind the government’s plans,” Vygaudas Usackas, ambassador and special representative of the European Union (EU) in Afghanistan, told IRIN.



The conference would be the beginning of an “Afghan process” in which the government would not only assume greater authority but offer a new “social contract” to its citizens on good governance, accountability and better services, Usackas said.



“It’s not just promises,” he said, adding that the EU was satisfied with aid spending in the country.



Realistic?



“Holding yet another one-day conference is not the way to solve the long-term problems facing Afghanistan. It creates the illusion of action but it is actually what happens after the conference that matters most,” said Oxfam’s Jackson.



Security has been worse than at any time since 2001 and development activities have increasingly been inhibited by insurgent attacks on government employees, according to aid agencies. The government plans to lure fighters away from insurgency with financial and political incentives through a controversial integration strategy.



Ahead of the arrival of dozens of foreign dignitaries, among them the UN Secretary-General and US secretary of state, thousands of Afghan and US/NATO forces have been drafted in to ensure security during the event. A suicide bombing in the city on 18 July left three dead and over 40 wounded, according to health officials.



“The Kabul Conference cannot do magic and solve all problems. There are solid challenges ahead which cannot be solved overnight or by the government alone,” said Shukria Barakzai, a member of parliament.



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