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Critical time for Afghanistan

By Christiane Amanpour
CNN Chief International Correspondent

CNN's Christiane Amanpour
CNN's Christiane Amanpour

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(CNN) -- The following is part of a series of reports from Afghanistan:

Almost two years since the fall of the Taliban, the reconstruction of Afghanistan is moving at a very slow pace.

In a donors' conference in Tokyo in January 2002, the United States and the international community pledged $4.5 billion to Afghanistan over five years. But Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan's finance minister and a former World Bank official, says that's a drop in the bucket and much more is needed.

"I'm going to be very direct about this," he told CNN. "The international community has not been generous to us. It's actually been quite stingy."

U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai says the country needed a minimum of $15 billion to $20 billion over five years, and he told CNN there would be grave risks if his country is left without being rebuilt.

"The risks are that Afghanistan will go back into the hands of terrorists, into chaos and despair, and we're not going to allow that," Karzai said. "We must respond to the needs of the Afghan people. We must respond to the aspirations of the Afghan people.".

Two years ago President Bush promised to rebuild Afghanistan in the grand tradition of the Marshall Plan for Europe after World War II. But two years on those promises have not yet been met.

Indeed, the Bush administration didn't include aid for Afghanistan in its 2003 budget to Congress and only added it after Congress asked why.

But now, against the backdrop of an upsurge of fighting in Afghanistan and the continuing war in Iraq, the president on Sunday night announced another $1 billion for Afghanistan, and he has ordered one of its main highways rebuilt by the end of the year.

The U.S. Embassy's charge d'affaires in Kabul, David Sedney, told CNN, "Certainly the Afghan people are looking for results. We are building schools and clinics in many parts of Afghanistan, but we need to do more. At the same time our enemies, the Taliban, al Qaeda and others, are trying to use the fact that in some areas of the country they have not seen those benefits as a weapon against the government and against the international community."

Remember, Afghanistan is where Osama bin Laden, with the help of the Taliban, planned the September 11 attacks. The United States toppled the Taliban and routed al Qaeda to ensure the country would never again become a haven for terrorism.

Christiane Amanpour
On the Scene

But over the summer, especially during the past month, the Taliban and remnants of al Qaeda have been mounting a fierce insurgency in the south. They are partly able to do that because of the people's frustrations with a lack of reconstruction and improvement in their lives.

The capital of Kabul is full of small businesses. School has started up again, including for girls, who were banned from attending during the Taliban. But there's still no large scale rebuilding of the collapsed infrastructure.

The United States is now providing more money as an emergency cash infusion to shore up Karzai. He is a moderate, Western-oriented politician who believes strongly in building his country up again and reversing the course of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism that shook the world on September 11, 2001.

Afghan girls, who were banned from attending school during the Taliban, have returned to class.

But Karzai needs a lot of help. Not only has he been unable to provide the kind of visible improvement and reconstruction for his people, but he is constantly being undermined by powerful warlords within Afghanistan and by the latest Taliban resurgence.

Aid officials in Afghanistan are already calling the new U.S. money "not as much as we hoped for." The question is, will it be enough to ensure Karzai has popular support by the time Afghanistan's first election is held next summer?

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