French envoy delivers grim Afghan farewell message

KABUL (AFP) - The French ambassador in Kabul has delivered a starkly pessimistic farewell speech questioning the achievements of more than 11 years of international intervention in Afghanistan.

Mr Bernard Bajolet, who has been appointed as France's new spy chief, rejected the normally cautious language of international diplomacy to express fears that Afghanistan faces an almost impossible series of challenges next year.

"I still cannot understand how we, the international community, and the Afghan government have managed to arrive at a situation in which everything is coming together in 2014," he told guests at his farewell party on Tuesday.

"Elections, new president, economic transition, military transition - and all this whereas the negotiations for the peace process have not really started," he said. "But we have this situation in front of us, and we have to cope with it."

Mr Bajolet also had harsh words of warning about Afghanistan's prospects as a sovereign country when the Nato-led military combat mission ends next year and with international interest in the country fading rapidly.

"We should be lucid: A country that depends almost entirely on the international community for the salaries of its soldiers and policemen, for most of its investments and partly on it for its current civil expenditure cannot be really independent," he said at the embassy cocktail party.

More than a decade after the Taleban regime was ousted in 2001, Afghanistan remains in the grip of a virulent insurgency, with militants launching daily attacks on government officials, police and international and Afghan soldiers.

Afghanistan's inexperienced security forces are taking over responsibility for fighting the Taleban, but fears are growing that the country could tip into civil war after Nato military operations cease.

Mr Bajolet, 63, who also served as French ambassador in Iraq, pointed to endemic corruption and drugs as two keys problems hobbling efforts to establish stability and security in Afghanistan.

He said corruption revealed the elite's lack of faith in their own country and was preventing foreign investment, and that the international community had failed to carry through its pledge to tackle drug production.

"Drugs... cause in Western Europe, in Russia, in the Balkans, in central Asia, more casualties even than terrorism," he said in a text of the speech released to AFP on Sunday.

Mr Bajolet's assessment contrasted with that of General Joseph Dunford, Nato's military leader in Afghanistan, who during the week struck an upbeat note, saying that there was "indisputable" progress towards the goal of a stable nation.

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