Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced an additional $200 million in reconstruction aid for Afghanistan in an effort to demonstrate that Canada's mission there is making a positive difference in people's lives.

The amount is in addition to $1 billion Canada has already committed to reconstruction projects over the next 10 years.

The prime minister made the announcement in Ottawa on the same day Foreign Minister Peter MacKay prepared to table a major report on Canada's overall progress in Afghanistan.

The funding will be disbursed this year and next, and will be in addition to Canada's annual allocation of $100 million to development activities in Afghanistan, with focus on five priority areas:

  • governance and development ($120 million);
  • counter-narcotics ($30 million);
  • policing ($20 million);
  • de-mining ($20 million); and
  • road construction ($10 million).

Thanks to the efforts of Canadian forces in southern Afghanistan, said Harper, the "fragile peace that reigns over most of the country, has been extended to large parts of Kandahar Province."

"Now it's time to consolidate those security gains on the ground, and use them to advance reconstruction because the long-suffering Afghan people desperately need hope for a better future for their families and community."

Harper said last May, the government received Parliamentary approval for an additional $310 million for aid and development in Afghanistan. That brings the total spending to $1 billion through to 2011.

However, critics said much of the money so far has gone to longer-term or more abstract projects, including economic development programs and good-governance projects like training judges.

Many say they want to see results when it comes to rebuilding schools, roads and hospitals.

Harper said these funds will meet those demands, and will go to support "proven Afghan national programs which promote world development and encourage community involvement, project selection and design."

The money, said Harper, will help pay the salaries of teachers, health workers and police to ensure basic government services, "and provide micro credit to help the Afghan people start small businesses and support their families and build their communities."

But the new funding also comes as there are fears that pro-Taliban fighters will begin to descend from the mountains in the coming weeks as winter draws to an end.

Gerry Barr, president and CEO of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, said the new money is a sign that Canada is moving toward a path of peace rather than one of counterinsurgency and war.

But he pointed to a number of challenges Canadian troops and aid agencies must deal with.

"Mr. Harper said that this was money meant to consolidate security gains which were hard won over the last year, but many others would say it's far from clear whether those security gains are firm, and there is talk of an offensive by insurgents in the spring," Barr told CTV Newsnet in an interview. "So it's not yet clear if Kandahar is a place where development can take place."

With files from the Canadian Press