By Jessica Donati
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan is locked in a wrangle with the United Nations over control of a fund for police salaries, highlighting a quandary for aid donors keen to disengage from the country but reluctant to do so until sustainable, graft-free systems are in place.
A bid to revamp the police has been one of the most expensive and problem-plagued projects Afghanistan's Western allies have undertaken since stepping in to rebuild the country after the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.
The dispute between the government and the United Nations, exacerbated by a leaked U.N. report on police corruption, is over control of a Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan, and raises the prospect of more than 100,000 police going unpaid if it is not resolved by the end of June.
While police are expected to get their pay packets, even the suggestion they might not is likely to demoralize a force that is vital to security, especially after the withdrawal of most foreign troops, and struggling against a Taliban offensive.
Despite the lavishing of more than $3 billion through the trust fund since 2002, the police have been unable to shake off a reputation for corruption and poor discipline.
The surfacing of the U.N. report on police corruption, and a suggestion some U.N. officials tried to cover it up to hide their failings, has helped President Ashraf Ghani press his argument that the fund should be controlled by his government.
While donors want the fund transferred eventually, several diplomats told Reuters they think ministries are too corrupt and they want strict conditions for transfer to Afghan control.
Negotiations have been heated.
At least one major donor has frozen millions of dollars. A diplomat whose country contributes to the fund said more help was conditional on the interior ministry being able to handle it "carefully and responsibly".
"The question of how deeply cuts are made will depend on security, reforms and corruption," the diplomat said.
Top government negotiator Narghis Nehan said talks were centered on an 18-month transition during which the UNDP would shift into the role of monitor.
That would address Ghani's concerns about UNDP management, which the president has objected to since it ignored demands last year to plan for a transition, and withheld the corruption report from both the government and donors, undermining trust between them.
Even though the June 30 deadline for a resolution looks set to pass, donors are optimistic a fix can be found to keep paying the force until agreement is reached.
"You can't just start firing dozens of officers in the middle of the fighting season," said Franz-Michael Mellbin, ambassador for the EU, a major donor to the Trust Fund.
(Editing by Paritosh Bansal, Robert Birsel)