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Helping Afghans Help Themselves

As an international conference on rebuilding Afghanistan opened in Islamabad, the US-led moves against the Taliban continue to proceed rapidly.

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How can Afghanistan be rebuilt so that refugees like Zakira will return?

The three-day international conference "Preparing for Afghanistan's Reconstruction" opened to a packed audience of about 330 people on Tuesday in Islamabad, Pakistan.

The gathering aims to draw up a list of needs for a country ravaged not only by war, but also by a three-year drought. The latter has devastated a rudimentary economy based on agriculture and animal husbandry.

Delegates were urged to put the future of Afghanistan at the top of their agendas and remove their different agency hats. The conference brings together donors, international agencies and non-governmental bodies. It is hosted by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Asian Development Bank.

Time to listen to the Afghan people

World Bank vice-president for South Asia, Mieko Nishimizu, said the conference was an opportunity for the entire aid community to listen to Afghanistan’s needs. "And I do mean listen," she said. It was important to help Afghans help themselves rather than imposing grand schemes that suit donors and relief agencies more than the country’s ordinary citizens.

"I did not come to this conference to tell you how the World Bank and other donors are going to rebuild Afghanistan," Nishimizu stressed. "How dare we think about rebuilding Afghanistan without listening to the sovereign people. How dare we continue the very exclusion that has blighted the lives of the Afghan people for so long."

David Lockwood, UNDP’s deputy regional director, called Afghanistan "a proud nation" which resented and resisted outside interference. "If we are going to help break the cycle of increasing desperate dependency on external assistance, we have to act quickly, and with a clear plan of action which can be readily supported by all parties and factions, and can therefore be adopted easily by the interim authority and supported financially by donor countries."

US closing in on Kandahar

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, hundreds of US Marines strengthened their position at a desert airstrip southwest of Kandahar.

The soldiers fought their first battle on Monday night, sending Cobra helicopters to attack a convoy of tanks and vehicles heading towards their newly-established base.

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