Tuesday, October 21, 2014

President Karzai arrive in Washington, D.C.

President Hamid Karzai has arrived in Washington, D.C. for an official four-day visit to the United States of America. President Karzai is leading a delegation of senior Afghan officials including Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta; Defense Minister Rahim Wardak; Interior Minister Hanif Atmar; National Security Adviser Dr. Zalmay Rassoul; Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal; Commerce Minister Wahidullah Shahrani; Agriculture Minister Mohammad Asif Rahimi and Director of National Intelligence, Mr. Amerullah Saleh.

During the visit, President Karzai is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama and other senior US officials to discuss strengthening Afghanistan-US relations; the situation in Afghanistan and the region; as well as the combat against terrorism.

President Karzai will also take part in a Trilateral Meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari and US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, for strengthening regional cooperation to address the challenges in Afghanistan and the region.

Moreover, President Karzai is scheduled to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with his Pakistani counterpart on Improving Trade and Accession Facilitation.

As part of the agenda, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Agriculture and Finance, and the Director of National Intelligence will participate in separate working group sessions with their Pakistani counterparts for strengthening cooperation in relevant areas. The working group sessions will be chaired by the respective US counterparts.

Falling Short on Afghanistan

By PADDY ASHDOWN and JOSEPH INGRAM–

A just-released report from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance has produced some shocking findings with disturbing implications for the future of the war-ridden country and its unstable neighborhood. Yet the report and its conclusions have failed to capture the attention of the key politicians overseeing financial and military support from Afghanistan’s allies.

What this technical report, “The Donor Financial Review for 2008,” concludes is that the international community is falling woefully short in financing its own estimates of Afghanistan’s needs. For the period from 2008 to 2012, the financing gap is about $22 billion, or 48 percent of estimated needs. Worse, the activities financed by the donors have so far been seriously out of line with the strategic priorities established in Afghanistan’s National Development Strategy, which has been strongly endorsed by the donor community as a whole.

Although the Obama administration and its allies have stressed the need to direct more resources to economic and social development, the review suggests this direction is still to be established. As under the Bush administration, proportionately more appears to be going to security, with shrinking resources available for meeting Afghanistan’s development needs.

If this trend continues, as projected donor commitments suggest it will, the suffering of a very poor population will get worse, fueling support for the fundamentalist insurgency that threatens the entire region.

How can these dangerous trends be addressed, and are there lessons to be drawn from “successes” in other parts of the world?

Given that in the first years following conflicts in Bosnia and East Timor, financial aid per capita was on the order of $580 and $400 respectively, commitments today of only $57 per capita to Afghanistan seem laughably insufficient. These numbers suggest that the financing aid that has been committed or actually disbursed needs to be dramatically augmented.

At the same time, the proportion of resources being managed through Kabul’s own budget – rather than separately by each donor – needs to be increased. Currently, only 20 percent of the international community’s financial aid is being managed through Afghanistan’s national budget and in accordance with its strategic priorities. This is occurring despite a recent World Bank assessment that shows substantial improvements in the government’s overall capacity to manage developmental resources. Instead, 80 percent is being managed by donors themselves, creating costly inefficiencies.

Indeed, the situation described in the review defies all the principles of good practice in donor coordination, principles established by these same donor governments in a recent document known as the “Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.” While coordinating the donor community is often equated with herding cats, and each situation is unique, there are “success stories” like Bosnia, which offer important lessons.

In Bosnia, the international community was led by a so-called high representative, an impartial individual with credibility in the eyes of both the civilian and military communities. Though equipped with extraordinary powers conferred by a council made up of the government signatories to the Dayton Peace Accord, the high representative used these powers selectively, and only after consultation with the Bosnian government and council members.

Critical to successful coordination, however, was the creation locally of a board of key donor agency heads, a de facto cabinet under the chairmanship of the high representative, which met weekly, set common objectives and worked to align those objectives with government priorities. The board consisted of the heads of NATO forces, international police and security forces, the ambassadors of the European Union, the United States, Britain, the United Nations, the I.M.F. and the World Bank. Through this arrangement, the high representative, an E.U. national, was perceived as representing the interests of the broader international community rather than those of any single power.

This enabled the international community to act with unity in a way that allowed them to be better partners to the domestic authorities. The result was an efficient use of international aid, through a more effective prioritization of financial resources directed to infrastructure, health, education, a social safety net and job creation, as well as ensuring adequate security.

Given the desperate poverty and the danger of a fundamentalist takeover in the region, Afghanistan deserves no less.

Lord Ashdown is a former E.U. high representative in Bosnia. Joseph Ingram is a former director of the World Bank’s office in Bosnia.

Afghanistan declares its first national park

BrightSurf–The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) applauded Afghanistan’s National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA), which announced today the establishment of the country’s first internationally recognized national park.

USAID provided key funding that led to the park’s creation, including support of WCS to conduct preliminary wildlife surveys, identify and delineate the park’s boundaries, and work with local communities and the provincial government. WCS also developed the park’s management plan, helped the government hire and train local rangers, and provided assistance to the Afghan Government to design the laws enabling the park to be created.

The park, known as Band-e-Amir, will protect one of Afghanistan’s best-known natural areas: the spectacular series of six deep blue lakes separated by natural dams made of travertine, a mineral deposit. Travertine systems are found in only a few places throughout the world, virtually all of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage list and are major international tourist attractions.

Band-e-Amir had been a destination for travelers since the 1950s, with a peak visitation in the 1970s. Tourism was almost entirely absent during the war years between 1979-2001. Today, Band-e-Amir is visited every year by thousands of Afghan tourists and religious pilgrims as well as many foreigners currently living and working in-country. The park is near the Bamyan Valley, where the 1,500-year-old giant Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban once stood.

“At its core, Band-e-Amir is an Afghan initiative supported by the international community. It is a park created for Afghans, by Afghans, for the new Afghanistan,” said Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Band-e-Amir will be Afghanistan’s first national park and sets the precedent for a future national park system.”

USAID applauded NEPA for the creation of the national park. USAID believes that protected areas are a key way to preserve natural resources while also improving local livelihoods.

Though much of the park’s wildlife has been lost, recent surveys indicate that it still contains ibex (a species of wild goat) and urial (a type of wild sheep) along with wolves, foxes, smaller mammals and fish, and various bird species including the Afghan snow finch, which is believed to be the only bird found exclusively in Afghanistan. Snow leopards were once found in the area but vanished due to hunting in the early 1980s.

The lakes are under growing threat from pollution and other human-caused degradation to the fragile travertine dams.

Creating the national park will provide international recognition essential to helping develop Band-e-Amir as an international tourist destination, and assist it in obtaining World Heritage Status, which would provide additional protection. It also sets the groundwork to create an Afghan Protected Area System that could include the wildlife-rich transboundary area in the Pamirs shared by Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and Tajikistan.

The new park will be managed by Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, and the Band-e-Amir Protected Area Committee. WCS helped the 13 villages lying within the park establish this Committee, which provides local input into all management decisions. The park will provide employment, tourism-derived revenue, and ensure that local communities play a key role in protecting this world class landscape.

Wildlife Conservation Society