Afghanistan’s leaders and officials from over 70 nations gathered in Brussels today seeking to drum up billions of dollars for the cash-strapped government as it battles a powerful Taliban insurgency and rampant corruption. “It’s important today that the international community sends a strong message of support,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters. He said that Afghanistan’s leaders “have been making impressive reforms and development plans to change the lives of people that have been suffering too long.”
But with donor fatigue growing after 15 years of war, EU officials said ahead of the meeting that it was unclear whether the target of USD 4 billion per year for the next four years would be reached. The last donor conference, in Tokyo in 2012, secured USD 4 billion in annual subsidies for development.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the EU will pledge 1.2 billion euros (USD 1.3 billion) “and we would expect a similar level of engagement from our partners.”
“We all need to commit to a new deal for Afghanistan,” Mogherini said as she opened the meeting. In earlier comments to reporters, she denied reports the bloc is making aid conditional on Afghanistan taking back people who have fled to Europe, saying there is “never a link between our development aid and what we do on migration.”
Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani said the Brussels conference would give his government an opportunity to present its reform blueprint. He stressed its commitment to fighting corruption and advancing women’s rights. “Our achievements are many and Afghanistan is advancing on a positive trajectory,” Rabbani said. “Yet our challenges remain formidable.”
Afghanistan has been mired in conflict for decades. At the height of the 15-year US and NATO intervention, billions of dollars flowed into the country, creating a false economy with double-digit growth. But the drawdown of troops in 2014 led many aid workers and international agencies to depart or scale back their operations, causing the economy to all but collapse.
Officials estimate up to 50 per cent unemployment. Deteriorating security deters foreign investment in key fields such as mining and infrastructure, and drives the country’s youth onto the migrant trail to Europe in search of opportunities.