The elections will signal the end of the Bonn process, under which the EU has contributed more than 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) to the country since 2001.
Having returned from a two-day trip to Afghanistan over the weekend, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the bloc will continue contributing aid to Afghanistan in the years to come. The current cut-off point for EU aid programming is the end of 2006.
“I can already say and this is what I said [in Afghanistan]: certainly, we will continue our dedication, I think it’s a moral obligation also to go on with a process that you have started, and a substantial amount of money [will be given by the EU],” Ferrero-Waldner said.
She said a meeting bringing together Afghanistan’s donors and political supporters is likely to take place either in New York or London in January. She said the meeting could result in a “post-Bonn compact” -- a new international undertaking stretching the current commitment to assisting Afghanistan further into the future.
Ferrero-Waldner said that as part of that compact, the EU is already preparing a new cooperation treaty for Afghanistan. She said meetings with the head of the currently 70-strong EU election-observation mission in Afghanistan, Emma Bonino, had left her confident the elections are likely to pass successfully.
“I would say [the] security [situation] is certainly precarious, but at the same time [it] could be much worse," she said. "I think Emma Bonino feels rather confident -- rather confident -- with all the precautions she has to take that things could go quite well.”
Ferrero-Waldner praised Pakistan’s decision to reinforce its troops on the Afghan borders with an additional 5,000 men for the elections, but said the move should have taken place earlier.
Ferrero-Waldner said there was a “certain risk” that the elections could provide a springboard for warlords and other criminal elements to enter the new parliament. She said Afghanistan had purposely opted for an “inclusive” approach trying not to antagonize local leaders. She noted that Afghan leaders told her during the visit that they hoped that conscious of the suffering the warlords had caused people wouldn’t vote for them.
However, in a report presented to the European Parliament at the end of last month its author Emma Bonino noted that election campaigning appears to exclusively follow existing ethnic, tribal, and other group loyalties.
Ferrero-Waldner also gave some indications as to the areas the EU will prioritize in its aid decisions after 2006. These include the health sector, infrastructure -- particularly roads -- and rural development. Education is another key priority, particularly vocational training and what Ferrero-Waldner called “high-level” academic education aimed at providing qualified civil servants and other officials for the country.
The fight against drug production is another important concern for the EU, which absorbs about 90 percent of the heroin produced from Afghan opium. Ferrero-Waldner said the “gradual reduction” she expects to see as a result of the spread of Western-assisted alternative livelihoods for farmers could be expected to last more than a decade before the problem disappears.
Ferrero-Waldner said the EU will be particularly eager to reinforce the rule of law in Afghanistan, which it sees as an essential precondition for the future development of the country.
“There has to be much more focus on the rule of law, justice, administration judiciary – because there is a lot of impunity. And this of course combined also [with] , I think, higher salaries for the police, because then of course, together with that – and of course higher salaries for [other] officials -- there [would be] less corruption. These [problems] are still there, and I think we in the future also have to set some benchmarks, to say ‘We are ready to continue our work, but of course [while] setting benchmarks,'” Ferrero-Waldner said.
However, Ferrero-Waldner stopped short of saying that future EU aid will be strictly conditional on progress in eradicating corruption and other large-scale abuses of power.
For more on the upcoming Afghan elections, see RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated "Afghanistan Votes" webpage.