The leaders of Norway and Afghanistan exchanged promises in Oslo on Tuesday, with Norway committing billions in additional financial aid to the war-torn country over the next several years and Afghan President Hamid Karzai promising to make good use of it. Concerns continue, though, given the high level of corruption in Afghanistan and uncertainty over who will succeed Karzai when his term ends next year.
Karzai visited Oslo this week after paying similar courtesy calls on leaders of other nations that have had troops in Afghanistan for years and spent enormous amounts trying to keep the extremist Taliban from regaining power in the country. Norway and its allies are now withdrawing their troops, but vow to keep helping Afghanistan with humanitarian aid and support for democratic reforms.
Norway has pledged to send NOK 750 million (around USD 135 million) to Afghanistan per year until 2017. Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg claims Norway won’t let Afghanistan down now, and will help the country take care of its own security while also furthering programs like providing educational opportunities for girls.
Half of Norway’s aid goes directly into Afghanistan’s national treasury, though, and Norwegian leaders also are demanding that Karzai’s government reduce the levels of corruption that threaten to siphon it off. A main goal is stronger control over the money and how it’s used, but concerns remain that not all its recipients share donors’ intentions.
Karzai, who thanked Norway for its support, readily admitted during his visit to Oslo that corruption is a big problem, but he claimed the situation is improving. He promised that Afghanistan’s contribution to the aid agreement he signed with Stoltenberg on Tuesday will be to use the donated financial resources for the betterment of the Afghan people.
He’ll be stepping down in 2014, however, when his second term as president ends and right when the last of the NATO-led forces, including those from the US, are due to leave the country as well. It’s unclear who will succeed him in national elections next year.
As a “retired president,” Karazai said his most important legacy will be to ensure the succession of a democratically elected president. He also promised better control of foreign aid in the meantime, and Stoltenberg stressed that Norway’s aid will be halted if suspicions arise that it’s being misused.
Skepticism remains, with the head of the Norwegian Parliament’s foreign relations committee worried about the power struggle going on in Afghanistan. “There’s all reason to be extra alert,” Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide of the Conservative Party told news bureau NTB. “The challenge is that the country’s constitution provides rights, for example to women, and limits presidential terms, but reality can be something else entirely.”
Stoltenberg preferred to emphasize what he called the “progress” that’s been made in Afghanistan. Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide insisted the Norwegian government “has control” over the use of its financial aid. “We’ve been tough and we’ve held back funding in the past,” Eide told newspaper Aftenposten. “The worst scandals don’t involve Norwegian aid.”
Karzai met with Eide and Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen and visited the Norwegian Parliament during his visit. He also met King Harald V at the Royal Palace before having a “working lunch” with Stoltenberg at the prime minister’s residence.
“I made it clear to President Karzai that if Afghanistan fulfills its obligations, Norway will continue its support for the country,” Stoltenberg said afterwards. Norway’s goals include “good governance, education and rural development,” along with zero tolerance for corruption and advancement of human rights, especially for women.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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