On Wednesday, international leaders will meet in Berlin to take stock of rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan. Reconstruction financing and a booming opium trade remain major challenges.
Much of Afghanistan remains in rubble as aid projects struggle to make an impact.
Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and his trademark head covering will take center stage in Berlin on Wednesday, when 54 nations meet to analyze the progress and problems in Afghanistan three years after the fall of the Taliban.
Karzai, in the German capital on Tuesday, highlighted his country's battle with drug lords and dwindling financial resources as the major talking points at the two-day conference, which will be attended by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"We will be asking (the international community) to increase their assistance to Afghanistan in order for all of us to succeed in bringing about a safer, better, standing-on-its-own-feet Afghanistan," Karzai told reporters after meeting with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, according to Reuters.
Germany ready for the long haul
The Afghan leader has already picked up important pledges from German officials. Schröder, whose country has 1,900 peacekeeping troops in Kabul and the northern city of Kunduz, said Germany was prepared to stay in the war-torn country for the long haul.
Schröder and Karzai met on Tuesday, on the eve of the two-day conference.
Germany has provided roughly €80 million ($97 million) in aid each year since 2002. On Wednesday, German officials are expected to announce that they will continue their aid program until 2008.
The United States, the biggest donor ahead of Germany and Japan, will most likely offer $1 billion on top of the $1.2 billion it has already pledged this year. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Tuesday that the leading donor countries hope other countries will pledge more aid.
Afghan leaders estimate that $27.5 billion is needed over the next seven years for reconstruction. Donors worldwide have so far pledged $4.2 billion through 2004.
"We obviously hope we will gather as large a sum as possible," Fischer told reporters.
Afghan opium flooding world markets
Not only financial woes, but the country's growing drug problem are likely to be major discussion points.
A poppy field in Afghanistan
Far more lucrative than wheat fields and growable even in the substandard Afghani soil, experts estimate opium production makes up roughly half of the country's €4.4 billion gross domestic product and poses a significant security problem.
"Through that, warlords and terrorist finance themselves," says General Rick Hillier, who commands the NATO stability force in the region. "That means they lag even more in giving up power to the central government."
Most of the opium produced in Afghanistan ends up in European markets as heroin, according to the UN drugs authority. As a result, governments have been more open recently to helping the Afghan government, suggesting crop alternatives for farmers and pledging to invest in sectors that will create more jobs.
ISAF troops not ready to fight drug trade
Problems remain. The International Security Assistance Force has so far refused to involve itself in the fight against drug production and smuggling, leaving an ill-equipped Afghan police force and army to fend for themselves. In the past year, a few kilos of heroin have fallen into Afghan law enforcement's hands. That's a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated 3,600 tons of opium that left the country last year, according to UN drug authorities.
"The fight against drugs is the fight for Afghanistan," Karzai said.
Northern Alliance fighters
Afghan police plan a major offensive in the coming weeks to burn 75 percent of the poppy fields in three Afghan provinces. The offensive will later be extended to all 32 provinces. The U.S. government has pledged $40 million exclusively for creating and financing anti-drug troop units. But Karzai said alternatives need to be found for the farmers, who make far more money producing opium poppies, the raw material for heroin, than any other crop.
Speaking before a roomful of business people on Tuesday, including representatives of the World Bank, Karzai pushed raisins and saffron as possible options for weaning farmers off of drug production.
"If we want to have Afghanistan," said Karzai. "We must fight drugs."