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MARGARET WARNER: And for more on the rebuilding plans and challenges, we turn to Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the United Nation’s development program– he just returned from the donors conference in Japan; Haron Amin, charge d’affaires in Washington for the interim government of Afghanistan; and Helena Malikyar, research associate with the Afghanistan Reconstruction Project, a nonprofit organization in New York that advises the U.N. on Afghanistan issues. Welcome to you all.
Mr. Malloch Brown, beginning with you, with a country this devastated where do you start?
MARK MALLOCH BROWN, United Nations Development Program: Well, it’s a good question. I think you start with the very human basics.
The first is to get Mr. Karzai’s government up and running, properly funded. We were able to put in resources this week to allow them to pay the first month’s salary.
The second thing you have to address straight away — as your report made clear — is security — not just sort the blue helmets peacekeeper sided security but policing in the villages and streets of the country.
And then there are a couple of very urgent priorities in the eyes and words of ordinary Afghans. They want their kids back in school. And the school year starts in March. They need it get crops into the field to break these four years of drought and crop failure, so the priorities in a sense speak for themselves.
And a little bit further back in the line comes rebuilding of the basic infrastructure of the country, which will take longer, be more capital intensive and rather harder to get done.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Amin, did what he just said track with the priorities of your government?
HARON AMIN, Charge D’Affaires, Interim Afghan Government: Well, indeed. Remember that there are — the most important thing is provision of security, making sure that the food that is provided by the international community gets to the people, making sure that it makes it across the valleys and the gorges and elsewhere and to the population centers of Afghanistan.
But beyond that paying for example for the 240,000 civil servants — their salaries — that haven’t paid for months — that would pay the attention away from maybe stealing to adequate work.
And of course, gradually starting reconstruction, rehabilitation, repatriation, and development on a long term basis whether that is in the social sector, whether that is in the political sector, whether that is in the economic sectors, all of them on a long term basis but indeed the priorities go to basically getting the attention away from — over coming warlordism, overcoming banditry — making sure this government that has been established with the international community — this effort and with a genuine desire of the Afghans on track to engage in building Afghanistan.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Malloch Brown, let me follow up on the security question because we’ll take say Jalalabad and the province around it, and let me try to give a concrete example where apparently just the food aid is being stolen by the local warlords and then turned around and sold in the hotels to western journalists.
If they are stealing the food aid and you want to rebuild a school there how do you actually do it? Do you send in a whole team? How do you keep the materials and the cash from being stolen as the food is?
MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, I think, you know, in this first phase there’s clearly a need for agreements with the local warlords that they don’t steal it. But they are in a sense undermining themselves with their own people when that happens, and I think local political arrangements are in place, being put in place — but in the longer term they mustn’t undermine our real peace building goal here, which is to reestablish the authority of the central government across the country.
And, in that sense, it’s a balance between temporary arrangements to make sure the food meets the people it’s intended for and the integrity of the international operation is not undermined by that kind of diversion or theft.
But in the longer term it’s to reestablish honest government in all corners of the country, and that brings us back to the need to build up the capacity of the new government.
And I do just want to make it cheer that this issue of the first month salaries of allowing civil servants who haven’t been paid for the last six months has been a critical priority for us.
We’re proud that while there’s no banking system yet and we had to take in the money for the 240,000 civil servants in cash, we had to take it into the country, but in the last two days at the end of the first month of the new government’s life, civil servants have been receiving their pay across the country.
And I think this is the first clear sign to all Afghans that after 20 years plus they have a functioning central government which is going to do things for them and be a force for good in all their lives.
MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Malikyar, if we take the other priorities that your two fellow panelists just laid out in education and building infrastructure in health, in agriculture is there enough expertise, as you understand it, enough expertise in Afghanistan to help run these projects, or do you think a lot of it is going to have to be done since so many people left the country by outside experts?
HELENA MALIKYAR, Afghanistan Reconstruction Project: No. There is some expertise left in Afghanistan obviously and not everyone could leave the country when there was trouble or perhaps chose not to leave.
But also you have an enormous amount of human capital and the near diaspora and neighboring states in Pakistan and Iran and then of course there are Afghan communities, refugee communities in Europe and the United States, and as far as in Australia, and one could draw on their expertise, their education and experience for the rebuilding process.
MARGARET WARNER: And what are the biggest challenges you see? What is the biggest stumbling block or potential pitfall?
HELENA MALIKYAR: To the….
MARGARET WARNER: To the entire effort?
HELENA MALIKYAR: There are many obstacles. To begin with the funneling of funds, the money that has just been pledged by the donor nations, how this money will reach Afghanistan and the various reconstruction projects has not been worked out very precisely yet.
The donor nations seem to show more favor towards working on a bilateral basis on individual projects in Afghanistan.
MARGARET WARNER: Meaning that — let me just interrupt — meaning in other words that the United States would kind of establish its own relationships, run its own projects and so on?
HELENA MALIKYAR: Exactly, yes. This, as opposed to putting all the money into a single fund managed by say the United Nations. This has dangers because for one thing, if there isn’t a coordinated and coherent program for the development of Afghanistan you run risks of repeating projects, I mean — having funding for one sort of project more than something else.
And on another level, if the donor companies decide to work with local commanders or warlords on specific projects, that will mean empowerment or further empowerment of the warlords at the expense of the central government. And the important thing here should be to help Afghanistan reestablish this… its state and institutions.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me get back to Mr. Amin here. Mr. Amin, from reading about the Tokyo conference, it seemed as if one reason the donor countries were reluctant to sort of turn over the running of it to the Afghan government, was this concern about corruption?
What can you say to the donor countries, or what are you promising to the donor countries to ensure that the money actually goes for the projects intended and to what degree does the Afghan government, interim government want to have — believe it is going to have control over this?
HARON AMIN: Well, first of all, Chairman Karzai explicitly stated that he intends to make sure that there will be transparency and accountability. We have every desire. Remember, you can raise money. If you don’t spend it right, you cannot raise an enormous amount afterwards. That’s the intention and the international community is being very cautious about it.
Our administration would want it make sure the projects aimed at in Afghanistan would be tangibly realized making sure that efforts would not be duplicated.
So, indeed the whole notion of corruption stems not so much from Afghanistan but from elsewhere also. I mean there are efforts in the past and in other countries that have failed. They want it make sure that is not repeated in Afghanistan. But our government is going to stand by the international community and is even going to hire an auditing firm hopefully to make sure that the money would go to the appropriate projects.
And then, back to the question, the whole notion of security, the government being paid is able to pay its civil servants so there’s sense of security, provision of the security for the entire country, and that other thing that’s going to address the whole issue of brain drain — attracting capital flow into Afghanistan. So these are all integral parts of an overall platform or set up that requires international encouragement, international enhancement, international corporation.
MARGARET WARNER: And very briefly, though, do you think you’re going need international troops, international force to go beyond Kabul to some of these other regions?
HARON AMIN: It’s something that has been discussed with us. We would welcome it, contingent that it be specifically explicitly told where, how many, and to what end.
MARGARET WARNER: Back to you Mr. Malloch Brown for final word on this question of corruption, the risk of corruption, the danger of corruption, what is the U.N. and the donor community looking for there?
MARK MALLOCH BROWN: We’ve got to have an operation of absolute integrity. We’re talking very large sums of money over the next few years and we can’t afford any slipups or corruption, which discredits the whole effort.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you prevent that?
MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Well, you heard Chairman Karzai propose international auditors. Now predictably enough, the wags in the conference room also — we hope not Andersen (laughter).
But behind it lies the fact that we do have procedures and organizations like mine or the World Bank or USAID are working in difficult governance environments around the world all the time and we realize that American taxpayers’ money is very precious. It’s entrusted to us, and we must ensure that is not squandered or lost. So we have a financial control regime, a disbursement regime and an audit regime intended to prevent.
But if I could just say, this conference one month after this government was formed, barely several months after the war was joined, the coalition war was joined in Afghanistan never before has so much been raised so quickly as part of an extraordinary outpouring of support to Afghanistan. And now is not the moment to lose the kind of confidence that took us this far.
At every stage of this thing since Oct. 7 naysayers said about the military campaign, said about the fight against terrorism and are now saying about the reconstruction of country it’s not possible.
Well, so far the naysayers have been disproved wrong, and I think the naysayers’ last claim was you’ll never raise billions in Kabul – in Tokyo for Afghanistan. We did. It was an extraordinary success -
MARGARET WARNER: All right -
MARK MALLOCH BROWN: — and in the same way we’ll defeat the pessimists on this corruption point. This is going to be a great day for Afghanistan.
MARGARET WARNER: Thank you so much. That has to be the last word. Thank you, all three.