- Speech given on behalf of the French Foreign Minister to the London Conference on Afghanistan

Chairman,

Prime Minister,

Secretary-General of the United Nations,

Ministers,

Ladies and gentlemen,

On 19 December of last year, the Afghan Parliament convened for the first time in over 30 years. The political transition process launched in Bonn on 5 December 2001 thus came to an end. How much ground has been covered in so little time !

The Bonn process has made significant progress possible in every area. The country is no longer at war. Democratically elected institutions have been established. More than 2 million refugees have come home to take part in the reconstruction of their country. Afghanistan has enjoyed steady economic growth owing to good results in the agricultural sector.

France has identified four key factors accounting for a well-managed transition successfully carried out in so little time :

- the commitment of Afghan men and women to peace, democracy and national unity. Few peoples would have recovered following such attacks against their independence, resources and culture. The Afghans succeeded since they drew on their political traditions like the Loya Jirga and clearly supported the democratization of their country. France wishes to salute their courage and resolve and especially the historic role played by President Karzai in this process.

- the international community’s constant and unanimous support in standing behind the United Nations. The coordination work accomplished in the field under difficult conditions by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Secretary-General’s Special Representatives has been exemplary. Now that he is about to vacate his post, I would like to warmly thank M. Jean Arnault for the mission he has conducted in Kabul with authority, modesty and effectiveness.

- the stabilization action carried out by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) since August 2003 : ISAF has played a crucial role in restoring security in many parts of the country. It has also actively supported the restoration of governmental authority in the provinces and the strengthening of the Afghan national security forces, in particular the Afghan National Army that is the guarantor of the country’s unity.

- cooperation of the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan. This cooperation created a climate of confidence and consensus beneficial to all countries in the region. It is fundamentally important for this cooperation to continue and strengthen. It is the key to Afghan and regional stability over the long term both in terms of the country’s economic development and of security. It will encourage the continued and voluntary return of refugees to Afghanistan and boost regional trade and projects. I am thinking in particular of transport and energy. The December 2005 Kabul Conference on Regional Economic Cooperation helped identify the orientations to be adopted to achieve this.

Very significant progress has thus been made. Yet, the country’s final stabilization cannot be taken for granted. It is crucial to regional and international stability. This was shown by the wide participation of the international community in this Conference and the level of delegations.

Two scourges are confronting us :

- the most worrying one is, by far, the persistence of insecurity. This is undoubtedly one of the principal challenges confronting the Afghan authorities at the start of this new phase. Violence continues to hang over the lives of citizens, the reconstruction of the State and economic development. It is due to criminal groups, illegal armed groups and above all to foreign and Afghan unrepented terrorists. Under such conditions, our military engagement in the service of security in Afghanistan must not slacken. Our resolve is not weakened in the slightest by the multiplication of attacks against international forces and the National Army in Afghanistan. The impending extension of ISAF to southern Afghanistan and subsequently eastern Afghanistan is the best evidence of this concrete engagement.

- Drugs are the other threat to Afghanistan and, beyond, to the stability of many countries. This threat seriously mortgages the country’s future. It is undermining the authority of the Afghan State, making the security situation worse and, ultimately, annihilating our concerted efforts to reconstruct the country. France and its European Union partners can all the less afford to ignore this issue since Europe is the leading destination for Afghan drugs. Thanks to the commitment of the Afghan authorities and the international community’s efforts coordinated by the United Kingdom whose work I salute, the hold of the drug economy began to weaken in 2005. We must pursue our efforts.

Our support for the Afghan authorities must not slacken during the phase we are starting. We are today being given the opportunity to solemnly reaffirm our commitment to consolidating, together with them, a viable, stable and prosperous Afghanistan well integrated into its regional and international environment. This commitment will, however, have to take new forms.

We must seek to make our action more effective. Redefining priorities and improving working methods is as vital at this stage as announcing new commitments :

- International aid will be more effective if donors seek to better coordinate the many ongoing projects. By planning to establish a Board to coordinate international aid in Kabul under the authority of the Afghan government and the United Nations, Annex 3 to the Paris Declaration on Afghanistan meets this concern.

- Aid will be better suited to the needs of Afghans if the Afghan government ensures that it is managed transparently under the interim Afghanistan National Development Strategy of 21 January 2006. The Strategy recalls that the Afghans are now on the front line of reconstruction. The international community has five years -namely the duration of an Afghan parliamentary term- in which to confirm the success of the Bonn Process and ensure it benefits all regions of Afghanistan. It owes this to the Afghans, whose needs are huge and expectations legitimate. It owes this to the citizens of donor countries who have shown solidarity for the Afghan people for a long time, in particular through the NGOs who are working unremittingly in the field.

We are definitely all committed for the long term. The April 2004 Berlin Conference on the Reconstruction of Afghanistan provided the opportunity to make commitments lasting until 2008. To date, these commitments have been kept. The European Union, its member States and the European Commission have played a decisive role in this by providing the second-biggest source of funding for international aid to Afghanistan.

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France has fully supported the political transition process. At the crucial time of the presidential election, it was in command of ISAF. On the proposal of the Afghan government, we agreed to coordinate the efforts to form the Afghan Parliament, in particular by training its administration with the help of our European and UNDP partners.

As I reaffirm today, France remains engaged in Afghanistan, alongside the Afghans and the international community :

- to help make Afghanistan secure : consolidating security is the key to durable stability. Since it was first engaged in Afghanistan, France has been determined to fully assume its responsibilities within ISAF. We will maintain this engagement that is crucial to the country’s future and the continuation of the international community’s efforts. In 2006, we shall assume new responsibilities by taking command of Kabul province in the summer of 2006 for a period of eight months. The strength of the French contingent in Kabul will increase from 600 to almost 1,000 soldiers. We shall continue to train Afghan National Army officers in order to enable the National Army to gradually ensure the country’s security ;

- to participate in the country’s reconstruction. In the years 2004-2005, French aid reached €40 million. Priority sectors were agricultural development, boosting of the private sector, public health and education. In so doing, we always concentrated on building the capacities of the State and Afghan institutions. Here too, we think it is essential for Afghans effectively to take ownership of the reconstruction of their country.

- For 2006, we have decided to increase our bilateral effort exclusive of military cooperation. €12.7 million will go to pursuing existing programmes in the areas of health, education and agriculture. In addition, there are new projects involving a total commitment of €33 million (€18 million of grants and €15 million of loans). The French Development Agency (AFD) will start implementing these this year. Our objectives are, in particular, to help restructure the rural economic environment where 80% of the Afghan population live and to boost the private sector, a priority of the Afghan authorities and one of the levers of growth.

As regards the rule of law, the French parliamentary assemblies have expressed the wish to continue their cooperation with the Afghan Parliament with the support of the French government.

As I said, our relationship with Afghanistan has had a European dimension from the outset. The European Union has provided the Afghans with crucial aid for humanitarian purposes and reconstruction. Its support proved essential in establishing the Afghan Parliament. The EU has encouraged the establishment of a high-level political dialogue. Its Special Representative Francesc Vendrell has done remarkable work in this respect. In 2004, when France commanded ISAF for six months, it of course relied on Eurocorps. Lastly, after Bonn and Berlin, it is once again in Europe that an agreement of major importance for Afghanistan is being concluded, here in London.

France warmly thanks the United Kingdom for hosting the Conference. It fully supports the objectives set out and the principles proclaimed in the Afghanistan Compact and its Annexes. Like all the countries and international organizations represented here, France believes in a better future for the Afghans. Such is the meaning of our presence here./.

Dernière modification : 17/01/2008

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