U.N.'s Top Afghan Envoy Hopes Paris Meeting Will Bring Extended International Aid Partnership

The top U.N. envoy for Afghanistan said Monday he hopes an international donor conference in Paris next week will lead to more help for the country to build the institutions needed to handle its own affairs.

At the meeting, which opens June 12, the Afghan government is set to ask for U.S. $50 billion in aid over the next five years. However, Kai Eide said there were other important aspects to the conference.

"We should not judge Paris ... on the amount of money," said Eide, a Norwegian career diplomat appointed to the United Nations post in March. "It has a donor element, but it is not a donor conference. It is a political conference."

Eide said a key item on the Paris agenda is the Afghan government's presentation of its own plan for national development.

"That is something the international community has asked for for a long time," said Eide at a briefing for Oslo-based foreign correspondents. "I think it is important that we align our resources behind it. ... It is a new step in the Afghanis taking ownership of the process."

He said there has been progress in improving health care, education and roads, but that more focus is needed on the energy sector and agriculture, upon which 70 percent of Afghanistan's people depend.

He also said national Afghan institutions remain weak and fragmented, with an especially strong need for better law enforcement.

Eide called on the Afghan government to step up efforts to fight corruption, and for the international community to improve aid coordination, since there is often "expensive duplication of effort."

The envoy said a continuing Taliban insurgency means security remains challenging, although "I think our presence in Afghanistan, which means presence militarily as well as civilian, helps us combat extremism and terrorism."

However, he said, to bring lasting peace, Afghanistan needs a process of reconciliation "so those (ethnic groups) who feel alienated today feel more included in a society."

He said Taliban who laid down their weapons might be included.