EU Official: Afghan Aid Must Be Spent More Wisely

Afghanistan must spend its aid money more wisely, the European Union foreign policy chief said Saturday as EU foreign ministers discussed ways to increase funds amid allegations of corruption in the Afghan government.

The ministers said that, once the new Afghan president and government take office, the 27-nation bloc will need to restructure its aid plan to improve the way the money is spent.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the new Afghan government would be held more accountable over how it handles donor cash.

"When we talk about a government ... it means a government that is not corrupt," Solana said at the EU ministers meeting in Stockholm.

International donors have been stepping up demands that Afghanistan confront pervasive corruption in government, while sending as much as $1 billion to the country outside official channels to avoid it being siphoned by corrupt officials. But with little coordination between the donors and government, officials have said it is unclear exactly how much total cash is available or spent for specific purposes.

EU member states have spent more than $13 billion in aid to Afghanistan since 2002, mostly in propping up the government's finances and supporting U.N. projects.

The EU also has some 400 police trainers in Afghanistan, and many of its member states also contribute troops to NATO's security mission there. It has sent judges and judicial experts to improve the rule of law in the country.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said more funding could be needed to expand Afghan government programs "mainly to work with the Afghan people and not to bomb them."

EU officials said the bloc could pay more into an international fund that pays for salaries of civil servants, police and soldiers.

Kouchner said donors had to step up efforts to sideline insurgents, noting "the Taliban offers $50 to a family ... You know what we pay the Afghan troops? We pay their troops less than half what the Taliban pays."

"We should pay more, and we should develop more their forces," Kouchner said.

A paper presented by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who was chairing the talks, also suggested creating an EU-funded training center for civil servants.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner suggested more involvement in rural development plans, including encouragement of alternative crops to poppy production and water sanitation.

"We have been giving a lot of money and a lot of money is there ... if everybody then augments, the better," she said.

Afghanistan is responsible for 90 percent of the world's supply of opium, the raw ingredient used to make heroin, and the multibillion-dollar crop has helped finance insurgents and criminal groups while fueling official corruption.

Western officials hoped the Aug. 20 presidential election would establish an Afghan government with the legitimacy to combat the Taliban, corruption and the flourishing drug trade.

Afghan election votes are still being tabulated, but results from 60 percent of polling stations counted so far show President Hamid Karzai leading with 47.3 percent, followed by ex-Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah with 32.6 percent. Karzai needs a majority to avoid a two-man runoff.

Meanwhile, the EU ministers reacted with dismay after 70 people were killed in a U.S. airstrike on two tanker trucks hijacked by the Taliban on Friday.