In a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday at the United Nations, President Bush announced a pledge of $180 million in funds from the US, Japan and Saudi Arabia to build a 600-mile road connecting Kabul, Kandahar and Herat. The road is one of several major reconstruction projects needed to rebuild Afghanistan after 23 years of war. Construction is expected to begin in January and is due to be completed in three years. While Bush committed $80 million in US funds for the project, it is unknown where these funds will come from. State department officials and lawmakers have reportedly pressured the White House to come up with a new funding source rather than take funds they are hoping to use for humanitarian aid and other projects in Afghanistan – such as the $300 million the House Appropriations Committee voted yesterday to send to Afghanistan over the next year, according to the Washington Post. A Congressional aide said that their overall aim is to ensure that the Bush administration “doesn’t strangle everything else we’re trying to do,” the Post reported.
Bush told Karzai that “US commitment to Afghanistan is for the long term,” according to the Associated Press. Karzai asked Bush to help Afghanistan secure the $1.8 billion in reconstruction funds promised by international donors – one-third of these funds have so far been received. The United Nations has reportedly spent $1.2 billion this year on reconstruction and aid, which has resulted in 3 million students going back to school, 60 miles of road being built and 2 million jobs created, according to Mukesh Kapila, a senior official with the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, who was in Washington this week to brief officials on how funds are being spent and lobby for more funds for the reconstruction effort. Kapila noted that a total of $2 billion in funds from the US is what is needed to provide sufficient aid and reconstruction, according to the Post. Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a bill that would increase funding to $2 billion for humanitarian aid and $1 billion to expand international peacekeeping troops. The full Senate could vote on this bill next week.
Kapila and Karzai both emphasized what Afghan women have been telling the Feminist Majority for months, that the most pressing need in Afghanistan is security. Karzai and Bush agreed that the best way to assure security for all Afghan people is to train a national army. However, the Feminist Majority emphasizes that with only 600 soldiers trained at this point to serve a population of 28 million, full-scale expansion of international peacekeeping troops is necessary now. While the Bush administration was initially opposed US support of this idea, senior officials have expressed a change of heart in recent weeks.