International Papers

Afghanistanathon

Afghanistan’s interim president, Hamid Karzai, collected aid pledges of more than $4.5 billion in Toyko this weekend, but most papers worried that it won’t be enough. The funds, of which $1.8 billion will be available this year, are conditional on Afghanistan abiding by the agreement reached last December in Bonn, where the various factions promised to cease inter-tribal hostilities, establish representative government, and eliminate terrorism and the drug trade. Conflict may already be threatening this unity; according to Tuesday’s Guardian, “Factionalism, banditry and crime are reportedly on the rise in many parts of the country away from Kabul, especially in the Pashtun south.”

The Financial Times criticized some donor countries’ grandstanding ways, claiming: “Several participants appeared more interested in playing to the gallery than in helping the 25m Afghans. Aid figures were massaged in a shamelessly propagandistic way. The insistence on providing bilateral funds rather than pooling money in a national trust fund will greatly complicate relief efforts.” (The Timesprovides a useful chart of the pledges here.) The United States promised $296 million, limiting its commitment to this financial year, which, according to the Guardian, “will inevitably raise questions about America’s staying power.” The Ageof Melbourne noted, “The US, the world’s richest country, gives a smaller proportion of its gross domestic product in overseas aid than any other developed nation.”

The Times of London fretted about the financial projections used by the United Nations to assess how much is needed to reconstruct Afghanistan:

They are almost silent on the central point: what this brave new country will do to earn a living. Not poppies, it says sternly—but then what? The financial model laid out before the conference reads like a dot.com business plan: the costs are minutely spelled out, almost to the salary of each doctor and civil servant (not hard, as there aren’t many). But there is no top line, no revenue—and no answers.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, veteran Afghanistan-watcher Ahmed Rashid reported on the United Nations’ challenges: With billions of dollars of aid money on the way, development experts are fighting among themselves to snag lucrative projects but, says Rashid, “only a few of them are consulting Afghans about their needs and the priorities for reconstruction.” While Afghanistan experts favor “minimal government and maximum autonomy in the provinces,” the United Nations favors a centralized state, which would allow U.N. managers to use development projects as carrots to keep warlords in line. Rashid also expressed concern that donor nations will pour money into high-profile projects “such as promoting women’s rights or education, while not providing sufficient funds for more mundane items, such as budgetary support to the new government, agriculture and rebuilding the infrastructure.”

The IRA occupies Parliament: “Sickening,” was how the Daily Mail’s front page greeted news that four Sinn Fein MPs had moved into House of Commons offices Monday, even though they refuse to recognize what they regard as a “foreign parliament.” Because the Irish republicans (Sinn Fein is the political wing of the IRA) will not swear an oath of loyalty to the queen, they are not permitted to speak or vote in parliamentary debates, but they decided to make use of Commons facilities, including what Ben Macintyre, the Times’ parliamentary sketch writer, described as “refurbished panelled offices, access to the Commons doctor, cheap travel, and ‘security advice’ from Her Majesty’s police.” They are also entitled to allowances of up to $153,500 each per year. Macintyre continued, “The Sinn Fein MPs will even be permitted, in what must surely stand as a signal act of reconciliation, to drive their cars into the underground car park where [MP] Airey Neave was killed by an INLA bomb in 1979.” The Daily Telegraph reported that their offices were “much better than would usually be granted to new MPs,” but security concerns bar them from the less attractive quarters on the Embankment. A Telegraph editorial described the Labor government’s decision to admit the four as “appeasement,” and noting that Sinn Fein MPs have refused to take up seats in Westminster since 1918, claimed, “[T]hey could never have dreamt in those bloody days that the British state would ever be so abject as to grant them the privileges that come from being an MP without actually asking them to participate in the system.” (For more on British attitudes to Irish nationalists, see this piece from Slate UK.)

Al-Qaida in burqas: Editorial writers around the world continue to complain about U.S. treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but many readers seem to have a different attitude. Britain’s Daily Mirror, a left-of-center tabloid that has been critical of the United States, conducted a phone poll of its readers regarding the security measures at Camp X-Ray. Nineteen thousand people called in. The Mirror reported, “By about nine to one, readers said they did not condemn the way the US was dealing with them.” Nevertheless, it continued, “in this case we continue to disagree with the majority. … [A]busing [the detainees], humiliating them, parading them as trophies, undermines our greatest strength. … Those photos of prisoners kneeling, bowed, blindfolded and hooded, are the greatest advertisement for al-Qaeda there could be.” A piece in Toronto’s Globe and Mailthat described the prisoners “wearing masks, mittens, earmuffs and blacked-out goggles” caused a reader to respond: “Funny. That sounds like the Taliban’s treatment of women when they were in power in Afghanistan, although those women weren’t given the same benefit of ‘excellent health care’ (or, for that matter, any health care at all). And Allah forbid a woman was seen out in the open air without wearing her sensory-depriving burqa.” A letter published in the Guardian offered a similar suggestion for the Guantanamo detainees: “Take off the shackles, blindfolds and the rest, and let them wear burkas. If their ankles are exposed to the guards’ view then a slight whip is in order to ensure that the offending part is covered properly. After all, I didn’t hear many people worrying about the lot of Afghan women under the Taliban.”