EU laments lack of Afghan progress

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Political reform and clean government are almost non-existent in certain areas of Afghanistan in spite of eight years of US and European assistance, according to a hard-hitting report for European Union governments obtained by the Financial Times.

“The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating,” says the high-level report, prepared for a two-day meeting of EU foreign ministers that started on Monday.

“We are not only faced with a critical security situation. Progress on political reform, governance and state-building is too slow, and in some parts of the country almost non-existent.”

The document, drafted by the bloc’s foreign policy specialists, sets the stage for the announcement on Tuesday of a reinvigorated civilian European effort in Afghanistan, in the form of extra financial resources and a new commitment to fighting corruption and strengthening the state administration. EU civilian aid for Afghanistan amounts to almost €1bn ($1.5bn, £912m) a year.

Carl Bildt, the foreign minister of Sweden, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, told the Financial Times: “The new strategy recognises the centrality of the political task in Afghanistan. If we don’t put in place some sort of functioning state in Afghanistan, some system of governance, then all our other efforts will fail. There is a new recognition of that.”

The EU report complements a message delivered last week by Nato defence ministers, who broadly endorsed a new US-designed counter-insurgency strategy for Afghanistan in an effort to regain the initiative in the eight-year-old war. European countries have deployed about 35,000 soldiers under Nato auspices in Afghanistan, about half the size of the 65,000-strong US contingent. But some EU countries keep their troops away from the most dangerous areas.

The EU report says the 27-nation bloc will attach particular importance to improving the Afghan electoral system after last August’s presidential elections were marred by fraud and vote-stealing. The report says: “In the absence of good governance, access to basic services, adequate justice and rule of law, the combined international and Afghan security efforts will not produce the necessary political stability needed for a secure and prosperous development.

“Insecurity cannot be addressed by military means alone. . . The EU commitment must be long term and predictable, supporting Afghanistan in becoming an effective and accountable state that becomes progressively more capable of managing its own security and of delivering services to its people.”

Mr Bildt said the EU would concentrate on curbing illegal narcotics output, boosting agricultural development, training civil servants in skills such as budgeting and planning, and improving the quality of police training.

He said there had been some progress in tackling the narcotics problem, which accounts for 90 per cent of the world’s opium output, but added: “To say the narco-state is over is wrong. There is clearly a long way to go, but it is not impossible to bring it under control.”

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