The European Union has pledged to help bring political stability to Afghanistan and aid in the reconstruction of a country devastated by a quarter-century of conflict. RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky met the head of the European Union's mission in Afghanistan and asked what the EU has done so far in Afghanistan and what it hopes to achieve.
KABUL, 21 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union's special representative for Afghanistan, Germany's Klaus-Peter Klaiber, has been on the job since December. Klaiber was a career diplomat in his country's foreign service before becoming the assistant secretary-general for political affairs for NATO. In September, he assumed a post in the highest echelons of the European Union as an ambassador at-large, a role that led to his present job.
Klaiber looks much younger than his 62 years and radiates enthusiasm. He acknowledges that his work in Afghanistan's complex and volatile political environment is full of pitfalls, but he says he enjoys his job precisely because it is such a challenge.
The EU has been deeply involved in Afghan matters since the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in September. Many of its member countries are involved militarily, either in peacekeeping or combat roles, and the European Union has been prominently involved in trying to foster political stability and spur economic reconstruction.
It was in Klaiber's home nation where the Bonn agreement -- mapping out Afghanistan's political future -- was signed in December. The accord resulted in Afghanistan's current interim administration and also calls for the formation of an emergency loya jirga to appoint Afghanistan's next government -- the transitional authority. This transitional authority is due to take over power from interim leader Hamid Karzai's administration by 22 June. The process is expected to lead to the establishment of a broad-based, multi-ethnic parliament and government through elections in 18 months.
At a Tokyo donors conference in January, the EU pledged 200 million euros to assist Afghanistan for each year from 2002 through 2006, for a total of 1 billion euros. The EU has said much of this aid is contingent on the interim government's adhering faithfully to the details of the Bonn accord. So far, said Klaiber, Karzai's interim administration is doing quite well.
"Well, I think in two months, you cannot expect too much. What I think has been achieved is a good start to the interim government -- a slowly but steadily better functioning administrative structure which is necessary to move the country forward," Klaiber said. "And last but not least, a faithful implementation of the various elements of the Bonn agreement. And I think this is the political condition for the international community to give the heavily needed assistance to the country so they can restart their economy."
Klaiber said large amounts of aid can only be handed out when a stable government is in place, a government that can draw up a budget charting a course to reconstruct the country. He said an important indicator of whether the Bonn accord is, indeed, on track will come in June during the expected appointment of the transitional authority.
"Well, they have to follow the procedures of the Bonn agreement faithfully. They have to establish an emergency Loya Jirga which is representative. That means having all walks of Afghan life represented -- representation of all ethnic communities. And if this is assured, I think the probability is there that an agreement will come about the future government which respects all elements and all interests of the whole country. It's very difficult, I agree, but we are prepared to give technical assistance if they want it. But essentially, it's an Afghan-driven process, and that is what we should support," Klaiber said.
Klaiber said that, regardless of what progress the interim government makes in fulfilling the Bonn accord, the EU will continue to provide humanitarian assistance, such as food aid and helping with the return of large numbers of refugees.
"The European Union provides humanitarian assistance without any political strings attached. So the humanitarian aid program of the EU continues unchanged, which is 35 million [euros] for this year [alone], and [the EU] has been active for the last decade in Afghanistan. The difference comes in when we talk about assistance for the reconstruction of the country. Here, the conditionality is that we expect the political process as spelled out in the Bonn agreement goes forward with confidence, and then I do not think that we will hesitate to help the government," Klaiber said.
He also said the EU is providing Kabul assistance in countering the drug trade, especially in opium and heroin. Klaiber said almost all of Afghanistan's heroin makes it way to Europe.
Klaiber said there are three commissions the interim government agreed to establish under the terms of the Bonn agreement, and that the EU is carefully monitoring their progress. These are commissions dealing with the establishment of an efficient and fair civil service whose staffing reflects the many ethnic groups in Afghanistan; a judicial commission to examine the legal system and install one that is fair and impartial; and a humanitarian commission to introduce into practice Western-style humanitarian norms.
Klaiber said the EU is particularly keen to see that the rights of women are improved. The EU especially wants Afghan society to develop in a way that allows women a role in political decision-making, something strictly forbidden under Taliban rule.
But Klaiber acknowledged that the EU and other outside bodies must tread delicately among the country's ancient customs and practices.
"We have to be careful in this respect. I know that the chairman [of the interim government Hamid] Karzai himself is very constructive in this respect and wants to move in this direction. But of course this country has lived with different traditions to those traditions we know in Europe and the United States, so I think we have to move slowly. We have to understand what the traditional rules and regulations are. But I think the country has signed the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] and the [European] Convention on Human Rights and, therefore, we have to remind them, 'This is what you have signed, and you have to live up to these pledges you have made yourself. But we are prepared to help you,'" Klaiber said.
Klaiber said progress in Afghanistan toward such reforms will be slow. But he believes such reforms are possible if the international community helps ensure a climate of political stability.