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Europe

Chief EU Diplomat Restates Europe's Commitment to Afghanistan

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, reiterated Europe's commitment to "the long haul" in Afghanistan during a visit to Kabul.

Face-covered militants pose in Zabul province, southern of Kabul, Afghanistan

Solana stressed Europe's pledge to rid Afghanistan of extremism and aid reconstruction

Solana said the European Union was dedicated to the reconstruction of the war-torn country and the eradication of extremism.

"I can tell you on behalf of the European Union -- all the countries of the European Union -- that we will continue to be working with the government, working with the people of Afghanistan for the long haul," Solana said after meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other senior ministry officials in the fortified presidential palace in Kabul on Monday, April 21.

"We, the people in Europe, will continue to be helping the people of Afghanistan to get what they deserve, the stability, prosperity and peace," he added.

A renewed commitment

Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Karzai thanked the EU and hoped for continued help

Solana jetted into the capital for a day-long trip which, he said in remarks published in a Kabul daily Monday, came at an important time of "renewed commitment by the international community" to struggling Afghanistan.

Following his arrival, Solana paid a visit to the headquarters of the EU Police Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL) and met with police officials.

Since June of last year, some 230 EUPOL officials have been training the upper echelons of the Afghan security forces. EUPOL is also assisting other Western training missions and is now spreading its operations to cover the whole country.

Solana praised the progress that Afghanistan has made in the past several years since the fall of the Taliban, saying "tremendous efforts have been done in education. The tremendous effort ... done in health is something that we take into great consideration."

Europe is the second largest contributor after the United States to military and development efforts in Afghanistan since the 2001 fall of the extremist Taliban regime, and President Karzai praised the European Union as "among the best supporters of Afghanistan."

High hopes for Paris donors' conference

Javier Solana

Solana praised the on-going efforts in Afghanistan

During their discussions, Solana and Karzai discussed a number of other issues including security, governance, and rule of law in Afghanistan, as well as the international preparation for the Afghan donors' conference in Paris in June.

"This is the moment to reflect on what we, the international community, can do, working in conjunction with our Afghan partners, to enhance our efforts," he said of the up-coming conference.

Afghanistan is hoping the donors' meeting in Paris will secure $50 billion (30 billion euros) in aid to implement a five-year development plan, Finance Minister Anwar-ul haq Ahadi said Monday.

The plan, called the National Development Strategy (ANDS), was presented to donors at an "aid effectiveness" conference in Kabul at the same time as Solana's meeting.

Based on a year of wide-ranging consultations, it will be assessed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, Ahadi told reporters after the meeting. The finalized strategy would become the basis of requests from donors at the June conference, he said.

"For this strategy, the Afghan government has asked the world for $50 billion in aid for five years," he said.

The ANDS was a comprehensive plan, the minister said. "All walks of government are included: security, good governance, financial growth, important issues such as counter-narcotics, capacity building and equal rights of women..."

Afghan solutions for Afghan problems

A NATO soldier on guard during a military exercise on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan

The rebuilding and enforcement of security goes on

The plan underlines Europe's commitment to restoring Afghanistan's infrastructure and the return of the power to the people.

In written comments for the Daily Outlook Afghanistan newspaper, Solana said it was "important that Afghan solutions are found to Afghan problems."

And success would involve more than a military effort to eliminate extremists, whose ranks are said to be reinforced, trained and equipped by militant camps in neighboring Pakistan.

"The approach must be global and joined up, encompassing the rule of law, development, reconstruction, economic growth, rural development and education," Solana said. "It is very important that the efforts should be led by Afghans," he said, reflecting growing demands by Karzai and his government for more ownership of the work in their country.

Despite the Paris conference's emphasis on civilian assistance, it is likely that the financial cost and loss of soldiers killed fighting Taliban extremists will also be discussed, at a time of growing doubts within some allied nations about the mammoth mission, which has been criticized as wasteful and disjointed.

Pakistan visit on itinerary

After leaving Kabul, Solana was expected for talks with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad on Tuesday.

Solana is expected to reiterate the EU's support for the democratic process in Pakistan. "We have to continue to show our support and engagement, in particular after the [recent] political developments [in Pakistan]," an official from Solana's office said ahead of the trip.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, left, greets Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani

Solana will meet President Musharraf and Prime Minister Gilani

Solana will be one of the most senior European Union officials to meet Pakistan's new leaders following elections on Feb. 18, his spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach, said in Brussels last week.

His message to them would be that "the world looks at you, the EU looks at you," she said. "We want to have solid relations with this new government at the moment when it is necessary to consolidate the democratic process and the line of reform," she said.

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