Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Europe, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights | Analysis

AFGHANISTAN: More, But of What

Analysis by Claudia Ciobanu

BUCHAREST, Apr 4 2008 (IPS) - At the Bucharest summit, NATO adopted an undisclosed "comprehensive" security strategy in Afghanistan, which combines military with civilian efforts. The publicised discussions on Afghanistan, however, were focused on the numbers of troops.

"I am very grateful to the international community," said Afghan President Hamid Karzai Apr. 2, during a conference organised by the German Marshall Fund on the sidelines of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) summit in Bucharest. "We are very thankful. Give us more."

"We are not failing, we are succeeding in Afghanistan," said NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the meeting, when confronted with numbers illustrating the increase of violence in Afghanistan in 2007.

But the officials&#39 declaration of optimism is put into perspective by the mere fact that one of their most important missions at the summit in Bucharest was to sign a new document outlining a change of strategy for security in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan Compact, approved in January 2006 and drafted in 2005, introduced a "comprehensive approach" to security in place of a military-centred approach deemed unsuccessful. The "comprehensive approach" means not only fighting "enemies" but also training and subsequently relying more on Afghan security forces and leaders, rebuilding the infrastructure and the economy, and involving neighbours of Afghanistan in peace- building.

At the Bucharest summit, leaders from NATO, the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), the World Bank, and donor countries committed to a long-term "comprehensive political-military plan" for Afghanistan.

The text of this document was kept confidential, but its principles were made public as a "strategic vision" which includes an effort to give a more central role in peace-building to the Afghan government and other international organisations besides NATO. The "vision" document also states the goal of having an 80,000 strong Afghan army by 2010.

But with the details undisclosed, it remains unclear whether NATO will actually be able to pull off a change of strategy.

"NATO is a military alliance. It has no economic or political capacity to speak of," Barnett Rubin from New York University, author of a widely read blog on Afghanistan told IPS. "Therefore, NATO is not the right organisation to pull this off. The emphasis on NATO reinforces the emphasis on the military aspect of the struggle, which U.S. commanders estimate is about 20 percent of the whole."

Indeed, negotiations right before and during the NATO summit were centred on the number of supplementary troops that each contributor country would send to Afghanistan. Additionally, efforts were made to persuade countries to give up "caveats" on their contingents (specific restrictions on where divisions can be sent and what operations they can engage in).

Before the summit, 47,000 troops from 39 countries were serving in Afghanistan, and it was announced that between 6,000 and 10,000 more were needed. In spite of the triumphal announcement by French President Nicolas Sarkozy that his country would increase its presence in Afghanistan by 1,000, an intervention by the French parliament reduced the number to 700. Other countries, such as the UK, Poland, Belgium and Romania, also revealed increases in their contributions.

"But numbers are not what really counts," says Dr. Ana Pejcinova, a development worker who recently returned from Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. "Posing the issue in terms of numbers is actually misdirecting attention away from the root of the problem and its potential solution. The latter seems to be not in hard power but in, plain and simple, economy – that is, livelihoods, poverty, &#39having something to lose&#39. Afghans have very little to lose, if any.

"NATO may not be able at all to offer the solution to ending the insurgency: it&#39s a military alliance, while the solution might be in economy and politics," Pejcinova told IPS, supporting Rubin&#39s views. "The discrepancy between funds invested into the international military forces and funds invested into development of the country should shame the West."

A recent report by a group of non-governmental organisations active in Afghanistan showed that, out of 25 billion dollars granted for the reconstruction of the country, only 15 billion have been spent, and 40 percent of this amount returned to the donors through salaries and profits of companies.

While NATO has started to acknowledge that peace in Afghanistan depends on a combination of military action and aid for development, and is asking for the help of other organisations for the latter, Ana Pejcinova warns that the alliance might be at fault also in its military approach.

According to the "strategic vision" document, NATO is fighting against "extremists and terrorists such as the Taleban or al-Quaeda." But Pejcinova says it is necessary to look behind the "extremism" tag. "The massive rise in attacks is mainly due not to the Taleban, but to numerous armed groups whose recruits have lost everything – land, assets, families, and so on – many from U.S. indiscriminate bombing campaigns.

"The Western conventional armies are facing unconventional, and what is turning into a popular armed movement in Afghanistan. Although every tactical battle is won by conventional hard power, the strategic goals are actually undermined by each tactical victory: winning (militarily) over locals only recruits more locals to join or support the insurgency."

All this points to one recommendation: much more funds and emphasis on the economy, complemented by a military component that needs to be more focused and restrained.

In his blog, Barnett Rubin points to specific non-military measures as central to peace in Afghanistan. "The rise in price of wheat and other commodities presents an opportunity for investing in other cash crops (than poppy and cannabis) and their marketing in Afghanistan. For all the rhetoric about how the drug economy is supporting insurgency and terrorism, where is the programme to seize this market opportunity?

"And for all the talk of the importance of Afghanistan to global security, where is the programme to assure Afghans of an affordable supply of basic food? This would do at least as much good as more NATO troops, and with less risk of collateral damage."

Republish | | Print |