World powers seek billions more dollars to keep Afghanistan running

An Afghan girl works at a brick kiln in Kabul. World powers are convening in Brussels to raise billions more dollars for Afghanistan to keep the country running until 2020.
An Afghan girl works at a brick kiln in Kabul. World powers are convening in Brussels to raise billions more dollars for Afghanistan to keep the country running until 2020.PHOTO: EPA

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - World powers will convene on Brussels on Tuesday to raise billions more dollars for Afghanistan to keep the country running until 2020, but the bigger prize would be a peace deal after almost four decades of conflict.

Fifteen years after the United States invasion that ousted Taliban rulers harbouring militants behind the attacks on New York and Washington, Afghanistan remains reliant on international aid and faces a resurgent Taliban that threatens the country's progress.

The two-day, EU-led donor conference in Brussels will seek fresh funds, despite Western public fatigue with their governments' involvement in Afghanistan. Around 70 governments, including the foreign ministers of the United States, Russia, Iran, China and India, are expected to attend.

"We're buying four more years for Afghanistan," said EU Special Representative for Afghanistan Franz-Michael Mellbin. But he stressed that the conference would also seek "a realistic timeline" for a new peace process. "If we don't achieve peace, it's simply going to be extremely costly for the foreseeable future," he told Reuters.

With 1.2 million Afghans forced to live as refugees in their own country and another 3 million living in Iran, Pakistan or seeking asylum in Europe, Afghanistan remains one of the world's most dangerous countries, according to the Global Peace Index of the think-tank Institute for Economics and Peace.

Underlining Afghanistan's precarious situation, Taliban fighters pushed into the centre of the northern city of Kunduz on Monday, a year after it briefly fell to the militants.

Long a crossroad for major powers, a prosperous Afghanistan could mean fewer refugees into Europe, an end to its status as a haven for militant groups hostile to the West and more effective police action against its billion-dollar narcotics trade.

For Moscow, which invaded in 1979 and spent a decade trying to control the country, the stability of the central Asian region is paramount. It has its largest foreign military base on the Afghan border, in Tajikistan, and an interest in keeping out the drugs that are trafficked and consumed in Russia.

But even with billions of dollars spent by the United States and NATO for Afghan security forces, some 30 per cent of the Afghan population lives in territory that the government does not fully control, according to Western officials.

At the Brussels conference, officials will seek total pledges of US$3 billion (S$4.09 billion) a year for the 2017-2020 period.

That is lower than the US$4 billion a year pledged at the last conference in Tokyo in 2012, partly because Afghanistan is raising its own revenues and because of so-called donor fatigue. Eighty per cent of Afghanistan's budget is financed by aid and the money will still fall short, according to one EU official.

On the margins of the conference, EU foreign policy chief Federacy Mongering may try to bring together China, Iran, Russia, the United States, Pakistan and India in what would be the first concerted peace push since 2013.

EU officials have been encouraged by two smaller peace agreements last month between the Afghan government, local warlord and their militant groups, but diplomats are unsure if the powers are ready to sit down in the same room.