Afghanistan Strategic Forum: Speech by the European Commissioner for External Relations

News and Press Release
Originally published
The Rt Hon Chris Patten
Commissioner for External Relations
Afghanistan Strategic Forum

Brussels, Monday 17 March 2003. - Welcome to Brussels, where the weather is always sunny as it is today.

Today, I have the great pleasure of welcoming Finance Minister Ghani who will lead us through the Afghanistan Strategic Forum. He is supported by a strong team of fellow Ministers, comprised of Foreign Minister Abdullah, Minister of Reconstruction Fahrang and Minister for Rural development Atmar. I believe this is a token of the seriousness the Afghan Government puts into the dialogue with its partners, an enterprise, which is very important to Afghanistan but also to the whole world.

Amongst the many high ranking participants from the international community let me just single out the UN Special Envoy Brahimi.

Suffice to say that I was delighted to take up the Afghan invitation for the European Commission to co-host a Brussels-based leg of the Consultative process, together with the World Bank, today represented by Vice President Nishimizu.

It is little over a year ago that the Bonn Agreement set the milestones for moving to a stable and democratic Government in Afghanistan by 2004. And the meeting here today is testament to the progress that has been made since then.

A year ago, we were working to understand the reconstruction needs of Afghanistan. Today, the process of reconstruction is truly underway and we have an Afghan led Consultative Group, and a robust Development Budget that sets out the Government's vision for the future.

Other changes within Afghanistan have been no less impressive:

  • In June 2002, the emergency Loya Jirga elected President Karzai to head the Afghanistan Transitional Authority;

  • Judicial and Constitutional Commissions have been established;

  • a new currency has been introduced successfully
So while significant challenges still lie ahead, I would like to start by congratulating the Afghanistan Transitional Authority on what they have achieved in a very short period of time.

I think it is also important to recognise the huge effort made by the international community. Not only have the Tokyo pledges for 2002 been fully honoured, but the speed of disbursement has been impressive by any standards. In 2002, the European Commission committed a total of € 280 million, over 85 percent of this has now gone to contract.

On a more personal note, I am also proud of the role the European Commission has played and the dedication of our staff in Kabul. In 2002, our assistance totalled over € 280 million and helped to deliver tangible change on the ground in health, in education and in restarting Government through very substantial support to the recurrent budget. Later today I will also have the great pleasure of signing with Dr Ghani the Memorandum of Understanding for our development programme of € 400 million for 2003 2004. It strives to underpin key Government priorities in the area of public service reform (including a significant contribution to the budget via the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund), rural recovery (including provision of alternative livelihoods in drug producing areas), primary health and infrastructure. We will also engage actively in the media and civil society, de-mining, specific gender initiatives and reintegration of refugees.

In addition, ECHO will continue to provide Humanitarian support of up to € 55 million for 2003.

But I think we all know that the road ahead will not be easy creating lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan will take time. As will reducing the unacceptably high level of poverty faced by many.

And this is the key point that I would like to stress today the EU is committed to Afghanistan for the long haul. As long as the Bonn process is on track, the EU's commitment to Afghanistan will not change. We will continue to work with the Transitional Authority to create a secure and prosperous future regardless of events elsewhere in the world. And it is essential that the wider international community does the same.

For 2003, the top priority for us all must be to build on the success of last year, and to work together to ensure that all of Afghanistan benefits from recovery and reconstruction. So I strongly welcome the Transitional Authority's commitment to:

  • Fully implement the 2001 Bonn Agreement;
  • Set clear priorities for reconstruction in 2003;
  • Prepare for holding general elections in mid 2004
  • Introduce tangible benchmarks to monitor progress. These are critical for both the Bonn process and the development agenda.
Translating our vision into reality will depend critically on improving the internal security situation. Not only is this fundamental to the wellbeing of the Afghan people, but without this it will be difficult to deliver development assistance. Despite progress on some fronts, we have, regrettably, witnessed setbacks in some areas as regards the security environment in which aid workers have to operate. I urge the Government to redouble efforts to expand control over all regions.

We must also work to ensure that Human Rights for all, including women and children, are fully respected across Afghanistan and are enshrined in the new Constitution. Without this, parts of Afghan society will continue to face an uncertain future.

On internal security, President Karzai's undertaking to form an Afghan National Army is a welcome step forward, and I understand that this is moving ahead - with support from the United States and some Member States. The recent Tokyo Conference on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration marks a further positive development. But these are difficult issues and we cannot expect to achieve lasting success overnight.

In the meantime, we all need to work with the Transitional Authority to strengthen its position throughout Afghanistan, including in the fight against opium poppy production. Unchecked, this invidious trade will be a strongly destabilising force and not only to Afghanistan.

Two issues strike me as key here. First, all donors need to work within the framework set by the Development Budget. It must be clear throughout Afghanistan that President Karzai and the Transitional Authority are driving recovery and reconstruction. And that they hold the key to future prosperity. Second, the international community must ensure that financial pledges continue to translate into rapid delivery of aid programmes.

And this is why today's meeting is so important. It offers the opportunity for us to establish priorities for the coming year, to set benchmarks for measuring our progress, and for the international community to underline its long term commitment to Afghanistan.

Before I conclude let me just thank the World Bank for its co-operation in organising this event.

I would like to end by wishing you fruitful deliberations under the able chairmanship of Finance Minister Ghani. I am looking forward to joining you all again towards the end of the meeting.

Thank you Chairman.