NATO and ISAF troops will withdraw from Afghanistan starting 2014 ©BELGA/AFP/J.SAGET 

Afghanistan is braced for an uncertain future once NATO and ISAF troops withdraw from 2014. The EU and its international partners will play an important role in ensuring the troubled country continues its transformation into a democratic state with a modern economy. The EP’s foreign affairs committee organised a one-day conference on 18 December on the prospects and challenges for Afghanistan and Central Asia in the wake of next year’s troops withdrawal.

Thijs Berman, a Dutch member of the S&D group and chair of the delegation for relations with Afghanistan, chaired the morning part of the conference. He said the EU as the biggest donor and its partners would still be needed to help Afghanistan. “One thing should be clear: we owe the Afghan people our full commitment. We will have to be there to support and assist the Afghan people in finding its way to peace and stability, economic progress and equal rights for all.”

Participants highlighted there was no shortage of challenges facing Afghanistan, such as security, women’s rights, economic growth and drug production. Stephen Evans, assistant secretary general for NATO operations, said: “Let’s be frank: Afghanistan is and will remain for some time to come reliant on external assistance and therefore for Afghanistan the road towards greater stability, development and self-sufficiency will be long and challenging.”

Next year’s presidential elections will be an important test for the country. Pierre Vimont, executive secretary general of the European External Action Service (EEAS) said: “The EU stands ready to help prepare the electoral process and be there to observe it. Conditions are challenging. Elections have an important contribution to make to any potential peace process. “

Franz-Michael Skjold Mellbin, head of EU delegation/EUSR for Afghanistan, stressed the importance of growth for the country’s stability: "Not enough had been done in the past to help economic growth in Afghanistan." He added women’s rights would remain a priority: "We brought health and education to Afghan women and this will not disappear."