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Analysts: Some European Nations See Boosting Help to Afghanistan as Way of Protesting War in Iraq
Gary Thomas
VOA, Washington
31 Mar 2004, 22:27 UTC

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Some Afghan officials attending an international donor conference in Berlin had expressed concern that the war in Iraq would drain international resources from the reconstruction of their own country. But, the reality has turned out to be somewhat different.

Afghan officials and some Western experts had predicted that the war in Iraq would siphon attention, money, and help away from Afghanistan. But, as Barnett Rubin, a leading Afghan expert at New York University's Center on International Cooperation says, such predictions have not quite turned out the way officials feared.

"That hasn't happened in quite such a simple way," he said. "I think that as those predictions were made, the Bush administration has made efforts not to make them true. And in addition, many countries who objected to the invasion of Iraq have wanted to continue to show their solidarity with the war against al-Qaida, the people who actually carried out September 11, which Saddam Hussein did not, by supporting the effort in Afghanistan."

Iraq and Afghanistan both face major reconstruction efforts. Teresita Schaffer, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia, says Afghan officials are looking for the same level of international spending in their country as is being expended in Iraq.

"Part of it inevitably is looking slightly to the west and seeing the sums of money being proposed for rebuilding Iraq. And there's some sense that Afghanistan, which is not that dissimilar in its physical size, should be playing in the big leagues and should be able to command very substantial sums of money," he said.

Analysts say some countries, especially in Europe, see helping Afghanistan as a kind of backhanded protest against the U.S. effort in Iraq.

James Phillips, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says European countries opposed to U.S. intervention in Iraq can help Afghanistan while still demonstrating their commitment to the anti-terrorist effort.

"Europeans are much more willing to step forward and help in Afghanistan, especially in terms of foreign aid or financial aid, than they are in Iraq," he said. "And they actually may be tempted to increase aid to Afghanistan over and above what they might have in order to show that they're still an important part of the alliance against terrorism."

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Spain on March 11, the incoming government announced it would withdraw its contingent from Iraq, but would increase its troop presence in Afghanistan.

Mr. Phillips of the Heritage Foundation says the seven new former communist states that were just inducted into NATO may be more inclined to help in both Iraq and Afghanistan than would longtime member states like Germany and France.

"The new tier of NATO allies is much more appreciative of their own political freedoms and therefore are much more willing to sacrifice to help other people recover their political freedom," he said. "And I think they would be more willing to participate in peacekeeping operations in Iraq or Afghanistan than some of the older NATO allies."

NATO leads the international peacekeeping force that keeps order in the Afghan capital Kabul, and is expected to play a major role in security for the first post-Taleban elections, now re-scheduled for September.