European Commission: "Afghanistan, one year after the Bonn Agreement"

News and Press Release
Originally published
The Rt Hon Chris Patten
Commissioner for External Relations
"Afghanistan, one year after the Bonn Agreement"
Speech to the European Parliament

Strasbourg, 15 January 2003 - I welcome this opportunity to discuss progress in Afghanistan over the past year. As I said to the Foreign Affairs Committee in December, the changes have been in many respects dramatic and offer a real chance to build a stable democracy. But timing is critical there is a limited window of opportunity which we have to exploit. Unless President Karzai and his Government manages to strengthen their position throughout the country, then there is a risk that these early gains will be lost.

But before turning to the substantial challenges that lie ahead, I would like to say something about the successes of 2002, successes accomplished in extremely difficult circumstances.

Only a year ago donors met in Tokyo to pledge over 1.8 billion US dollars for 2002. Much has since been achieved in Afghanistan. In the summer, President Karzai was elected by an Emergency Loya Jirga to lead the Afghanistan Transitional Authority; Constitutional and Judicial Commissions have been established; a new currency has been introduced and the process of recovery and reconstruction is well underway with increasingly strong leadership from the Afghan Government.

The international community has not only honoured the pledges made at Tokyo, but speed of disbursement has been remarkable.

The track record of the EU and the European Commission has been especially impressive. By early December, € 755 million of the total European Union commitment of over € 830 million had been disbursed. The Commission has played a leading role in co-ordinating the EU effort and has been actively involved in building up a strategic dialogue on Afghanistan with the US and other G-8 partners.

I must say that I am very proud of the quality of the EC assistance programme and the speed with which it has been delivered. It is a fine example of a successful linkage between relief and recovery, and has been a good test case for the reform of the management of the external service. It is also fair to pay tribute to the excellent staff we have at the newly set-up EC office in Kabul and to the EU's Special Representative.

In more concrete terms, our development programme of over €205 million in 2002 has helped to finance:

  • The operation of 238 health clinics and over 450 primary schools as part of the Government's 2002 Back to School campaign.

  • The clearance of landmines and unexploded bombs from more than 8000 square kilometres of land.

  • The return of some 17,000 key public sector workers, including the return to service of over 2,000 teachers and 2,000 nurses and doctors.

  • The creation of jobs. Through our rural recovery and urban rehabilitation programmes, we are financing over 3 million person days of work this year alone.

  • The rebuilding of infrastructure. The EC, along with the Swedish government and Pakistan has already started the emergency rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Kabul-Jalalabad-Torkham road. Full reconstruction will start next year.
In addition, our Humanitarian Aid has helped to support the return of over 1.8 million refugees to Afghanistan. Over € 70 million has been spent by ECHO in 2002.

For 2003, the challenge will be to consolidate this early progress. The Commission will continue to play a leading role. We anticipate total development assistance of about € 185 million, and there will also be continued Humanitarian assistance from ECHO of € 45 55 million.

The total contribution of the Commission will about to about €1bn over 5 years for reconstruction in Afghanistan. Had the international community done more in the 1980s and 1990s, we would not have had many of these problems.

Success in 2003 will hinge on three key issues:

  • The need to improve internal security.
  • The need to ensure Human Rights are fully respected, including for women and minorities.
  • The need for continued long term commitment from donors and effective co-ordination.
Internal security is critical not only for the future of Afghanistan, but also to the delivery of aid aid workers must be able to work without fear of recrimination. In this is context, I would like to express my strong concern about the death of one, and serious injury of two, aid workers in Kabul just before Christmas. Sometimes we underestimate the courage and commitment required by aid workers.

President Karzai's commitment at the 2 December Bonn II Conference to form an Afghan National Army is a welcome step forward. As is the recent signing of the Kabul Declaration on Good Neighbourly Relations. The Government must press on quickly with the creation of a National Army, but clearly this will not be achieved overnight.

In the meantime, the international community must do everything possible to support President Karzai and to strengthen the Government's position across all regions of the country, including in the fight against opium poppy production. If you look at present UN figures, there is reason for alarm: The rapid increase in poppy and heroin production has implications for the funding of terror and organised crime in the region. As agreed at the Bonn II meeting, we need tangible benchmarks to measure progress. These are critical not only to shape our vision of Afghanistan's future, but to provide support to the reformers within Government.

This is of critical importance for Human Rights. Recent reports highlight the unacceptable situation faced by minority groups, and by women in some parts of the country. We must secure fundamental change by ensuring that the establishment of the independent Human Rights Commission translates into tangible change on the ground, and that the new Constitution enshrines human rights for all, including women. Clearly, these issues are vital in view of the General elections foreseen for mid 2004.

We also cannot hope to deliver sustainable change without good donor co-ordination. We must all continue to give a strong and consistent message to the Afghan Government about the need to tackle internal security, to respect human rights for all and to set benchmarks for progress.

I would like to finish by stressing that we must be prepared for the long haul regardless of other events that may unfold in 2003. Rebuilding a cohesive state will take time, as will improving the unacceptably low levels of education and healthcare. I want to assure Parliament of my personal commitment to Afghanistan. I paid a first trip to Kabul in May 2002 and will return this February as part of a trip to the Central Asian Republics and I intend to make the co-ordination of donors, including NGOs, a priority of the visit. The support received from this House has been very reassuring, especially in helping to secure funding for Afghanistan for 2003. I look forward to equally rewarding working relationship with the European Parliament over the coming year.