EU joins US in new calls for Afghanistan to reform
The European Union joined the United States on Monday in fresh calls on Afghanistan to commit to political reform, saying the shape of the new government would determine how well the EU could work with Kabul, Reuters reported.
Sweden, which holds the EU presidency, wants quick implementation of an EU plan to stimulate economic development and curb corruption in Afghanistan, where international forces are struggling to contain a widening Taliban insurgency.
U.S. President Barack Obama is on a nine-day trip to Asia, and his aides have also stepped up pressure on Afghanistan and Pakistan to cooperate with Washington's strategy. Afghanistan announced on Monday it was forming a new anti-corruption unit.
World attention has focused on the legitimacy of President Hamid Karzai's new government after a fraud-marred election. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the line-up of Karzai's new government would determine how well the international community could assist Kabul, but stopped short of suggesting EU aid would be conditional.
"But I would say the way in which (Karzai) appoints his government is going to be of importance for the way in which we are able to work in different sectors," he told reporters before discussions on Afghanistan by EU foreign, defence and development ministers.
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bluntly warned Karzai that he and his government must do better and that Washington and Afghanistan's other allies wanted to see tangible evidence of the fight against rampant corruption in Afghanistan.
Bildt said the EU's work with each government department would depend partly on ministerial appointments and that Karzai's installation speech on Thursday would be an important indicator.
WORKING WITH KARZAI
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said: "We want to see a really clear, committed government to reforms and also particularly to good governance."
"This is most important because only then will the international community be really ready to work with Karzai."
The EU said last month it would increase aid to Afghanistan but said reforms were virtually non-existent in some areas and criticised fraud in the August election that reinstalled Karzai.
The EU ministers were expected to discuss coordination of civilian aid efforts and the big NATO military operation.
Obama is weighing several options for raising U.S. force levels in Afghanistan and Britain is trying to persuade its allies to send 5,000 more troops.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters before meeting the defence ministers that he thought Britain's figure realistic for non-U.S. allies, but numbers would be finalised in coming weeks.
He said more troops would be needed to step up training of Afghan forces so that they could take over responsibility for security, a process NATO hopes to start in some areas next year so that Western forces can eventually withdraw.
"We need trainers, we need equipment, we need money to finance an increased number of Afghan security forces," he said.
In speeches in Edinburgh on Tuesday, Rasmussen is expected to point to a "new momentum" in international efforts in Afghanistan and urge closer coordination between military and civilian efforts, a NATO spokesman said.
International forces are locked in a stalemate with the Taliban, unable to stem the rising tide of attacks, while insurgents cannot defeat Western troops in open battle.
EU institutions and the 27 member states provide Afghanistan with nearly 1 billion euros ($1.5 billion) in civilian aid annually.