BELGIUM EU BRUSSELS CONFERENCE ON AFGHANISTAN.jpg
(L-R front) Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani, European Council President Donald Tusk, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, chat as they pose for a group photo at the Brussels conference on Afghanistan in Belgium, 05 October 2016.
Photograph: EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET

The European Union announced Wednesday that it would offer Afghanistan 1.2 billion euros (1.34 billion dollars) annually over the next four years, at an international support conference, while the United States promised to keep its funding constant.

Despite several multi-billion-dollar aid packages over the last 15 years, Afghanistan remains one of the world's poorest and politically unstable countries. Corruption is rife, while security remains a concern after NATO ended an anti-terrorist combat mission in 2014.

The aim of the conference, hosted by the European Union, is to keep funding for Afghanistan for the next four years on a par with the 4 billion dollars annually pledged in 2012, while also promising the country political support.

"What concerns the EU and member states, we will pledge 1.2 billion euros, and I would expect similar levels of engagement from our partners," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said early Wednesday.

Mogherini stressed that there is "no link" between the EU's funding for Afghanistan and a commitment by Kabul to take back migrants from the bloc, agreed a few days ago.

But European Council President Donald Tusk said that "we do expect ... countries to take back irregular economic migrants" and thanked Afghanistan for its "courage" on the issue.

The subject is highly sensitive in Europe, following the arrival of more than 1 million migrants and asylum seekers last year. Advocacy groups have slammed the deal between Brussels and Kabul, arguing that it is irresponsible to return people to the conflict-ridden country.

"We expect ... cooperation on migration issues from Afghanistan," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, adding that the funding pledges must help to create a future for young Afghans who might otherwise feel compelled to leave the country.

Germany alone is expected to offer up to 1.7 billion euros for development and reconstruction in Afghanistan over the next four years.

US Secretary of State John Kerry sais his country would "provide civilian assistance at or very near the current levels" until 2020. In view of next month's US elections, he promised that the next administration would remain "as committed as we are today."

"We will not abandon our Afghan friends," Kerry said.

He called specifically on Russia, China, Pakistan, India and Iran to do their part, noting that they could play a special role, not only economically but also in reaching peace between Afghanistan and the Taliban insurgency.

The conference, which began Tuesday, was initially overshadowed by a Taliban offensive on the northern Afghan city of Kunduz. By Wednesday, Afghan security forces were pushing back in a third day of clashes.

"Conflict remains the main obstacle to the prosperous future that the people of Afghanistan deserve," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Brussels conference.

The terrorist threat was likely to remain for the medium-term future, added Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, while noting that poverty was the largest challenge for the region.

"Thirty-nine per cent of our people live below 1.35 dollars [a day]. That means, one to two meals a day and low probability of their children ever attending school," he added.

The Brussels conference includes officials from 75 countries and 25 international organizations, according to Tusk. It follows a similar event held in Tokyo in 2012, which raised around 16 billion euros for Afghanistan until the current year.

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