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Another $16 billion in aid, but Afghan businessmen say help us

World leaders in Tokyo pledge more aid to Afghanistan. But Afghan businessmen worry that the country is too aid dependent and want help with the private sector. 

By Correspondent / July 8, 2012

Japan's Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba (c.) attends a joint news conference with Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul (l.) and Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal at the Tokyo Conference on the Reconstruction of Afghanistan in Tokyo July 8. Major donors pledged on Sunday to give Afghanistan $16 billion in development aid over the next four years as they seek to prevent it from sliding back into chaos when foreign troops leave, but demanded reforms to fight widespread corruption.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

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Kandahar, Afghanistan

International donors representing about 70 countries and organizations met in Tokyo on Sunday to pledge $16 billion to Afghanistan’s reconstruction over the next four years.

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The announcement was welcome news for many in Afghanistan, but nearly 11 years into the US-led war many Afghans and international officials have expressed considerable disappointment with an aid effort that they say has fallen short thus far. With these new pledges in place, there is hope that lessons learned will be applied to improve aid spending in the coming years.

Among complaints of fraud, mismanagement, waste, and missed opportunities that Afghans want addressed, many say they would like to see foreign assistance work harder to adequately develop Afghanistan’s private sector so it can begin to create jobs and a sustainable economy.

“The government does not have the capacity to create more jobs. The only way to create more employment opportunities is to support the private sector,” says Mohammad Rahim Rahimi, director of the Ministry of Economics in Kandahar. “We are still asking the international community for support, but if they had spent development money appropriately I’m sure we would be self-sufficient and we would be able to support our economy.”

Despite the improvements foreign aid has brought to Afghanistan, it’s also managed to place the economy in a perilous position where it is dependent on aid for its existence. Presently 90 percent of the Afghan government’s budget depends on foreign aid and money from the international donor community and military spending makes up about 97 percent of the country’s GDP.

In this climate, a generation of young professionals has come of age only knowing employment in the lucrative non-governmental organization (NGO) sector and is now struggling to find work as donor spending decreases.

Since graduating from college in 2006, Abdul Ahad has worked only for NGOs. Now the program coordinator for Human Resources Development Agency, he says that his organization is down from a high of six donor-funded projects that employed a total of about 150 in 2009 to only two projects and a third minor one that employ just 25 people.

Speaking about colleagues who lost their jobs, Mr. Ahad says, “They are not getting jobs in the NGO sector, they are getting jobs in the private sector with small businesses and low salaries.” The NGO sector is known throughout Afghanistan for providing salaries well above market rates.

Meanwhile, those who’ve sought to create economic opportunities outside the world of international donor spending say they’ve received limited support.

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