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Security key to rebuilding Afghanistan

Aid agencies say more than 25 per cent of Afghan children die before their fifth birthday

(Keystone)

Swiss officials say a lack of political stability in Afghanistan is preventing aid from reaching those who need it most.

They were commenting at a meeting in Norway by the International Afghanistan Support Group, which discussed the country's continuing aid requirements.

A key concern among delegates was that there are insufficient security forces to maintain law and order across the country, especially outside the capital, Kabul.

They say this is hampering efforts to rebuild the nation, which is blighted by poverty and divided across numerous, often conflicting, ethnic lines.

Walter Fust, director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and leader of the Swiss delegation in Oslo, says delivering aid will remain difficult, particularly while tensions still exist between rival warlord factions.

"Afghanistan needs national security, it needs an army and a police force and it needs the structure of power to be in one hand, that of the central government," he told swissinfo.

The support group met just over a year after United States-led air strikes in Afghanistan brought about the fall of the Taliban regime, a move widely expected to bring more stability to the country.

But while the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has expressed hope that donations will continue, the group is expected to focus on how aid already given could be better directed throughout the country.

Stability needed

Susanne Schmeichel, the Kabul-based regional director of the non-governmental organisation Swiss Peace, says donors are increasingly reluctant to fund the Afghan government unless it can guarantee stability.

"It's a catch-22 situation: they will not get funds until they show capacity of governance but they can't rebuild the capacity without funds," she said.

Establishing a stable government and ensuring that it has an effective security force are likely to take some time. But in the meantime, Afghan citizens live in increasing fear of violence and, for many women, rape.

A report published on Tuesday by Human Rights Watch said Afghan women and girls had suffered mounting abuses and intimidation during 2002.

Fust suggests that international aid could solve this problem by developing schemes that directly involve ordinary people.

"In municipalities, in districts and in village groups, we have to find ways and means to empower people to organise their lives in ways that are sustainable and which make them feel secure... because they can't wait to get these things from the central government," he said.

Welcoming businesses

Once the security issues have been resolved, aid agencies hope that foreign businesses will be encouraged to invest in Afghanistan, boosting the country's economy and ensuring a longer-term stability for its citizens.

Schmeichel said Switzerland could take a lead in this by encouraging businesses to look at opportunities in Afghanistan.

The Swiss government is continuing to pump aid money into the country. Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss announced a 20 per cent rise in aid for Afghanistan from SFr25 million ($17.5 million) to SFr35 million.

swissinfo, Joanne Shields

Afghanistan aid

The International Afghanistan Support Group met in Oslo, Norway, to discuss the country's aid requirements.

Swiss officials say aid is not reaching those who need it most because the political situation is still unstable.

A report by an international human rights group says Afghan women and girls continue to suffer abuse and intimidation.

A Swiss aid agency is calling on the government to encourage firms to invest in Afghanistan.

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