Afghanistan High Level Strategic Forum - Chairman's summary

In Brussels, 17 March 2003, representatives from over 40 countries and twelve international organizations met to endorse a roadmap for the creation of a sustainable State in Afghanistan. The meeting was chaired by HE Dr Ashraf Ghani, Minister for Finance, supported by his Cabinet colleagues, HE Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Minister for Foreign Affairs, HE Haneef Atmar, Minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development and HE Dr Amin Farhang, Minister for Reconstruction.

The Chairman's summary from the meeting is attached.

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Afghanistan High Level Strategic Forum
Brussels 17 March 2003
Chairman's Summary

The Afghanistan High Level Strategic Forum followed up from the Afghanistan Development Forum held in Kabul on 13-14 March 2003. In Kabul the details of the operating and development budget were presented, including the government's principles for its operations, the development plan across each of the national programs and the operational expenditure across each of the program areas.

This meeting built on the discussions in Kabul. The Government presented a stark choice around the sort of country that Afghanistan could become in 5 years time. With a national vision, wise policy choices and coordinated and cogent international support behind that vision, Afghanistan could become a self-sustaining, moderate Islamic, western friendly State; a bridge between western and Islam civilizations. However, with fragmented support, or a loss of international interest, Afghanistan at best will become another development failure, lurching from crisis to crisis, and at worst a narco-mafia state, with a criminal elite and no respect for rule of law or civil and human rights.

The Government stressed the fundamental role of a strong private sector in delivering a sustainable and stable Afghanistan. It is the private sector that will provide the enduring employment growth needed to alleviate poverty and provide alternative livelihoods to those currently employed in the poppy industry. It is this same growth that will ensure that there is a revenue base that will allow for the provision of core public services like security, health and education ? particularly for the most vulnerable.

The Government outlined the recent budget process and the level of engagement and debate across the Cabinet and the Ministries. They noted that while the debate had been robust, it had always been collegial and conducted in a spirit of give-and-take. They also noted that the budget process had introduced a post-conflict Cabinet unfamiliar with public administration and budgeting with the harsh realities of trade-offs and choice under constraints.

The Government described the principles being adopted and steps being taken to ensure transparency and predictability for the private sector. This will facilitate robust competition and an internationally competitive private sector. The government role will focus on regulation and safeguards to prevent against the deepening of involvement by illegal interests.

The Government stressed the key goal of building State-Citizen accountability. Central to this is the full reporting by the Government to the community, particularly at the village level. Equally central is the role of national programs that will deliver benefits in a geographically and ethnically equitable manner. The Government outlined a vision of a reconstructed model of governance through the National Solidarity Program that will empower citizens at the village level to make their own choices.

The international community endorsed the vision of a prosperous state presented by the Government. They strongly commended the government leadership of the process and agreed that the key was international ownership of, and support for, the government's program and vision. In this regard the donors commended the government taking the lead in the coordination of assistance and agreed that individual donors may need to subordinate their sectional interests to meet the broader development goals of Afghanistan.

They noted the benefits of the programmatic approach adopted by the government and the comprehensive coverage of the program structure. Several donors reiterated the comments made in Kabul that there was now no reason for donors to fund programs outside the Government's program structure. They also commended the government for its budget process and the way it has faced up to the difficult budget trade-offs.

The international community strongly supported the roadmap the government outlined for reforms in the financial, administrative, judicial, socio-economic and security sectors. They noted that binding conditionalities where applied as part of the Bonn process. In the case of reform in each of these five areas the international community would look to the Government to provide a timebound action plan to deliver on their own reform goals. With such a plan, the international community would be in a position to ensure that the modalities of their support to Afghanistan reinforced the reform efforts in these sectors, and would monitor progress towards the agreed upon goals.

Participants highlighted the challenges that the Government faced in the security sector. They expressed concerns about the pace of reform in this sector particularly as it will either underpin or undermine reforms in the other four areas. They raised the possibility of developing new mechanisms through which the international community could play a greater role in monitoring the progress in this key area.

The Government discussed with donors the requirements for financing the 1382 budget. Of the overall expenditure plan of $2.25b, over 90% is required from donor contributions. Pledges from donors and expected domestic revenue cover 88% of this plan, as long as donors disburse their pledges to projects within the government's expenditure plan. Of the remaining financing gap of $276m, approximately $200m is needed directly or to multilateral trust funds to support the operating budget. The Government thanked donors for their pledges, and particularly for their confidence in releasing new pledges at this time. The Government will work intensively with donors over the next few weeks to ensure timely disbursement of pledges and tally commitments with specific financing mechanisms and projects within the National Development Budget.

The Government posited a price tag for a prosperous, stable state, which would cost approximately $15 billion over the next five years. Given that the Tokyo pledges would be disbursed within a few months, the need for a new pledging conference for the long term was raised.

As much as the need for financing, participants acknowledged the need for timely disbursement of funds to allow predictability of financing, and modalities of support that avoid establishing parallel mechanisms that would undermine the fragile unitary system of governance. The World Bank and Government called for a knowledge partnership that would ensure true transfer of knowledge and practices. The Government called on donors to provide practical advice on best practices in project design and implementation and regulatory frameworks, to allow the Government to make a technological leap.