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Afghanistan needs help to meet challenges

Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dafar Spanta called for a fresh injection of international funding to boost his country's development, when he spoke to members of the EP Development and Foreign Affairs Committees on Tuesday. "Without aid from the international community, we cannot deal with the titanic tasks ahead", he said. Fighting terrorism and drug trafficking and restoring the authority of the state have been, according to Mr Dafar Spanta, the three challenges facing Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. "Our first challenge is the fight against terrorism, which is undergoing a revival, especially in the south of the country", he said. The causes are to be found outside the country, where the sources of funding and training are located. In addition, because of the good weather, poppy production has not declined despite the change of regime and a reduction of 21% in the cultivated area. "We are committed to tackling this problem. But without social and political measures to offer an alternative to the people who live from this crop, we won't get there", said Mr Dafar Spanta. "We must also strengthen our law enforcement capacity, which consists of just 36,000 troops and 25,000 police officers" - and this in a country of 24 million people which is twice as big as Germany, explained the minister, who spoke in German. MEPs quizzed him about the reaction of the Afghan people to the presence of NATO military forces and the extension of their mandate to the south of the country. In reply to questions from Luisa Morgantini (GUE/NGL, IT) and Angelika Beer (Greens/EFA, DE), the minister admitted that "the troops are not always welcome but the population knows well that the situation would be worse without the NATO troops". Nirj Deva (EPP-ED, UK) raised the idea of granting licences to grow poppies for processing into morphine, of which there is a dire shortage in African hospitals at present. Cecilia Malmström (ALDE, SE) suggested promoting alternative crops to poppies, as is being done with coca in Latin America. Mr Dafar Spanta's view was that "legalisation of poppy growing is not a solution: it would encourage production even more". MEPs also touched on the nuclear capability of Iran, a country with which Afghanistan has close neighbourly ties, according to Mr Dafar Spanta. He said he wanted to see "a region without the atom" and stressed that the United States was Afghanistan's strategic partner. In conclusion he said "We want to belong to the democracies of this part of the world and show that there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy". (EP News)