Afghanistan wants to be "first world," President Hamid Karzai declared May 5 at a Brookings Institution discussion of the Afghan perspective on a new strategy for governance, institution building and economic development.
He noted great achievements in development over the past seven years, citing health services, education and highways as areas with solid gains.
Karzai also noted that per capita income per month has risen from $150 in 2004 to more than $450 today.
"In 2002-2003, we only had four to five thousand students in university. Today we have 75,000 in our universities," Karzai said. "That achievement could not have been there without the help of your tax payers."
He then reminded the audience that Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world and still dependent on the international community.
"The vision for Afghanistan 15 years from now is to be much less dependent on the international community, in other words not to be a burden," Karzai said. He hopes Afghanistan will become "a country where you can visit as tourists, not aid workers."
But according to a recent report by the Afghan finance ministry, Karzai's vision might be overly optimistic.
"The Donor Financial Review for 2008" concluded that the international community is dreadfully short in financing its own estimates of Afghanistan's needs. Further, foreign donor-funded projects have been seriously out of line with agreed upon strategic priorities.
A New York Times op-ed last week noted that in the first years following conflicts in Bosnia and East Timor, financial aid per capita was on the order of $580 and $400 respectively. Per capita aid commitments to Afghanistan today only amount to $57.
It's a dire prognosis for an impoverished country and increasingly volatile region – and certainly one not to escape Karzai as he meets with U.S. President Barack Obama this week.
He concluded: "One of our election agendas, strengthened partnership with America, which means more money from America."