BERLIN -- Donors at an international conference pledged $8.2 billion over the next three years to help rebuild Afghanistan and smooth its transition to post-Taliban democracy, the Afghan finance minister said yesterday.
Ashraf Ghani said he was "delighted" with the pledges, made after President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan appealed to officials from more than 50 countries to help his war-ravaged country support itself and confront the threat from private militias.
For the next year alone, donors pledged $4.4 billion, Ghani said, adding that priorities will include rebuilding roads and irrigation systems.
Karzai's plans for the next seven years called for a total of $28 billion in aid. Ghani said donors met Afghanistan's target for this year and covered more than two-thirds of its expectations over the next three years.
"We are keen to stand on our own two feet," Ghani said. Earlier, Karzai held out hope that Afghanistan can become self-sufficient in a decade.
The United States, European nations, Japan, and Canada were among rich countries that reaffirmed their support as Afghanistan's transition to democracy prepares for a major test -- elections set for September. The pledges compared with $4.5 billion offered at a first conference in Tokyo in January 2002.
"The United States will not abandon you," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told Karzai. A senior State Department official said Ghani's figure for the coming year included $2.3 billion from the United States, assuming Congress approves $600 million of that.
Italy offered up to 300 soldiers to expand international military teams to protect aid workers outside the capital, Kabul. Meeting amid heavy security at a Berlin hotel, donors applauded the progress Afghanistan has made since the Taliban regime fell in late 2001 in a US-led bombing campaign prompted by the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Let us see that Afghanistan in a few years will not be a burden on your shoulders, but a state that will stand on his own strong feet," Karzai said.
But with regional warlords yet to be disarmed and a Taliban-led insurgency persisting, security was an ever-present topic.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that free elections planned this year are in peril because Karzai's government and foreign peacekeepers still can't provide countrywide security.
Recent fighting in the Herat region highlighted the slow process of building a new national army and police force, and put pressure on Karzai's government to speed up a much-delayed plan to disarm thousands of militiamen before elections.
Karzai said the militias are the country's foremost challenge -- "not only a challenge to security and stability in Afghanistan, but they also are a cause of drug cultivation."
Powell said disarmament "has to be an essential part of the political process."
Karzai also sought further international help for his drive to combat opium poppy production. "Drugs in Afghanistan are threatening the very existence of the Afghan state," he said.