Afghan and EU leaders have a signed a cooperation pact at the Munich security conference aimed at long-term civil reforms in Afghanistan. Kabul is under pressure to accept rejected asylum seekers from Europe.
Afghan Finance Minister Eklil Hakimi and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini signed the long-negotiated Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development (CAPD) on Saturday in Munich.
Also at the signing was Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (standing between Hakimi and Mogherini).
Thepact sets out an agenda until 2024 aimed at "promoting sustainable development," tackling corruption and fostering civil rule, education and trade - despite fragile security in many regions of Afghanistan.
The agreement results from a series of summits in Bonn, Tokyo and London that culminated in a Brussels conference last October with funding pledges to Kabul.
"The EU will keep working with our Afghan partners for the stability and sustainable development of the country, for the sake of all Afghans," said Mogherini at the Munich signing.
Hakimi described the agreement as a "vital new framework for partnership."
The European Commission says the EU contributes annually more than one billion euros ($1.06 billion) in development funding each year to Afghanistan, making it the largest recipient of EU assistance.
Focus on women and children
Foreseen is "regular dialogue on political issues, including human rights, in particular the rights of women and children."
Despite fragile security, the commission on its website says Afghanistan is "progressively recovering" from three decades of conflict, citing, for example, the attendance of 8 million pupils at school, with 39 percent of them being girls.
The pact also puts emphasis on ways to combat terrorism, narcotics and "cooperation on migration" in line with Brussel's rhetoric on accelerating the "return and readmission of irregular migrants."
Outcry from rights groups
Since October, when EU nations, including Germany, reportedly increased pressure on Kabul to accept repatriations, human rights groups have warned against rash deportations without adequate checks of each applicant's status and recognition of widespread insecurity within Afghanistan.
In December, the Frankfurt-based group Pro Asyl (Pro Asylum), which is backed by churches, said the quota of Afghan applicants granted sanctuary in Germany had fallen from 78 percent in 2015 to 52 percent in 2016.
And, the German association for unaccompanied minors said the trend had shocked young Afghan refugees and impacted psychologically on their efforts at school.
Early this week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Pakistan's expulsion of 600,000 Afghan refugees last year had also exacerbated the situation in Afghanistan.
HRW said "arm-twisting" of Kabul by the EU had added to an "increasingly acute humanitarian crisis" within Afghanistan.
In December, the Afghan refugee ministry said as many as 10,000 Afghans had returned from Europe, including 3,000 from Germany.
As two groups were deported on flights to Kabul in December, the German interior ministry said it had been offering financial incentives to encourage voluntary returns.
More than 12,500 Afghans had received orders to leave the country, the ministry said.
Every second applicant rejected
The EU's statistics agency Eurostats has calculated that almost every second application from Afghan asylum seekers in Europe is now rejected.
An EU document disclosed last year estimated that some 80,000 rejected Afghan applicants still remained within the 28-nation bloc.
ipj/bw (dpa, epd)