Activists, Senators Ask, "Where's the Marshall Plan for Afghanistan?"
Dozens of activists from women's rights and human rights groups filled a Senate hearing room yesterday wearing bright yellow stickers that read "Afghanistan: Where's the Marshall Plan?" Andrew Natsios, USAID administrator, testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations on the President's budget for 2004.
In his opening remarks, Ranking Committee Member Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) stated, "In Afghanistan, President Bush said we need a Marshall Plan. Yet, the amount of aid the President has requested over the past couple of years pales in comparison. The Congress had to take resources from other important programs to pay for Afghanistan. Even the amount we have appropriated falls short, warlords continue to wield power over large areas of the country, and Afghanistan¹s future remains far from secure."
In response, Natsios stated that the 2004 budget calls for $657 million for Afghanistan¹s reconstruction and for this year the total is $350 million. These amounts, however, fall far short of the funds authorized by the Afghanistan Freedom Support Act and the real needs of Afghanistan. Little of the U.S. money spent thus far in Afghanistan has gone to the central government. The central government has not been able to pay police and civil servant salaries. At the hearing, Natsios gave the U.S.-supported road-building project as an example of reconstruction success. However, the Louis Berger Group, the US firm coordinating the US part of the Kabul-Kandahar-Herat highway, recently announced that the $180 million pledged by the United States, Japan and Saudi Arabia is only enough money to rebuild part of the highway from Kabul to Kandahar.
In addition, security remains a concern in Afghanistan. Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations Special Representative to Afghanistan, asserted that Afghanistan has plunged into its worst security crisis since the end of the war last year and that Western nations are sabotaging Karzai's attempts to bring security by continuing to dismiss the need to expand the international peacekeeping force (ISAF) beyond Kabul.
The visible presence at the Appropriations Committee hearing is a part of the Feminist Majority's ongoing campaign for ISAF expansion, increased reconstruction funding, and for more resources to support the work of the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.