Nation-building has never been an easy endeavour and Afghanistan is no exception.
After almost three decades of traumatic existence, Afghanistan has achieved a fragile stability in the past four years. Failing to address the country's challenges in a timely manner will undermine the post-Taliban political gains and jeopardize that stability.
The targets for future efforts to foster sustainable security and development are enshrined in the Afghanistan Compact - the successor to the 2001 Bonn Agreement - which will be presented todayjan.31 and tomorrow to the international community in London. The compact provides the framework for international engagement in Afghanistan for the next five years. It sets benchmarks and mutual obligations to ensure greater coherence and co-ordination between the Afghan government and international donors.
The London Conference on Afghanistan, co-chaired by Afghanistan and the United Nations, will be attended by more than 70 countries and multilateral organizations. The gathering will also provide an opportunity for President Hamid Karzai's government to table its National Development Strategy.
Following extensive consultations with donors, including Canada, the Afghan-led strategy will set out the government's priorities for accelerating development, increasing security, tackling narcotics and strengthening rule of law, governance and human rights.
None of these goals can be met, however, unless we can ensure that the Afghan government has adequate resources at its disposal to meet its domestic and international commitments.
The World Bank warned last week that the fragmentation of foreign assistance may adversely affect the accountability and capacity of the Afghan government. While 75 per cent of foreign aid bypasses government channels, it is critical that in the years to come, development aid be disbursed through the Afghan budget, with the explicit goal of building capacity and maximizing the socio-economic benefits.
While a dynamic private sector is giving rise to a new middle class, poverty is still pervasive in Afghanistan, where 53 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line on less than a dollar a day. Other indicators are even more worrisome. Life expectancy is about 45 years; one of every five children doesn't live long enough to see their fifth birthday; about 1,600 of every 100,000 mothers die in childbirth or from related complications. Only 13 per cent of Afghans have access to safe water; 12 per cent to adequate sanitation; 6 per cent to electricity.
For the next few years, our collective efforts should focus on creating new opportunities, jobs and addressing aid delivery and aid effectiveness in terms of services. Sustained growth should help fight the endemic public-sector corruption and non-governmental-sector aid wastage that prevails.
A key cross-cutting issue in London will be illicit narcotics, which account for more than 40 per cent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product. The United Nations is recommending a two-pronged approach - investment in infrastructure, and broad-based rural and urban development.
Preventing the emergence of a narco-state requires drastic and innovative ways of providing new livelihoods, promoting agri-business, and co-ordinating law enforcement across boundaries to put drug trading networks out of business. As a prerequisite, Afghanistan's dysfunctional justice system needs structural reform.
In London, the international community will mark the successful end of the Bonn accord, which gave Afghanistan a constitution, an elected president and elected national and provincial assemblies.
Moreover, the country has remarkably experienced, on average, 10-per-cent annual economic growth since 2002. Studies show that an annual growth rate of 9 per cent over a 10-year period is needed to achieve adequate progress toward the UN's Millennium Development Goals, while phasing out the drug economy.
Underlying these multipronged efforts is the security factor, namely the threat posed by the remnants of terrorism. While continuing to maintain a tacit alliance, the Taliban and al-Qaeda, joined by collaborating drug lords, have a common interest in destabilizing the nascent state and discouraging development activity, especially along the southern and eastern border regions.
Increasingly reliant on Iraqi-style tactics, the attackers target ordinary Afghans, teachers, religious figures, aid workers, policemen and even foreign officials, like Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry, whose tragic death was caused by a suicide bombing attack in Kandahar earlier this month.
The message coming out of London should be unequivocally clear. The Afghan people, assisted by coalition troops and newly deployed NATO/ISAF forces, will not back down in their efforts to stabilize and reconstruct Afghanistan until conditions on the ground show permanent signs of improvement. Collectively, we will do what is right to help Afghanistan stand on its own feet again. Today, that means supporting the Afghanistan Compact.
Omar Samad is Ambassador of Afghanistan to Canada.