AAN’s Thomas Ruttig participated in two podium discussions on Afghanistan in Germany in late October, a public one in Bavaria’s state parliament in Munich on 23 October (‘Whither Afghanistan?’), with an audience of over 400, and one under Chatham House rules, on occasion of the 20th founding anniversary German Bundesakademie für Sicherheit (BAKS, Federal Security Academy, ‘Achievements and Challenges after 2014’), in Berlin on 26 October, with more than 300 participants.
In Munich, Spiegel correspondent Susanne Koelbl and Philipp Ackermann, head of the German Foreign offices Afghanistan/Pakistan Task Force, were the other panellists. Ackermann summarised that there are five main fields that need to be scrutinised for an assessment of the success of the international mission in Afghanistan: the ANSF build-up; the long-term (post-2014) civilian engagement; regional cooperation; reconciliation and Afghan governance. He stated that the mission’s balance was positive on three and ‘mixed’ on one of the five areas (reconciliation), while only on one – governance – it was negative. ‘There are well-directed ministries, like the one for rural development’ but others were ‘miserable’. He added that President Hamed Karzai was a ‘difficult partner’ but that it would be wrong to ‘demonise’ him.
He also conceded that mistakes have been made, the major ones allowing that the mission has increasingly become perceived as a military one, that German development aid was upped too late and that for a long time, the Taleban movement had been equated with al-Qaida, despite its lack of an internationalist jihadist agenda. He also pointed to insufficient coordination, both between the institutions of particular nations and between different nations, and that the United Nations had not been ‘up to its role’.
Ackermann and Koelbl emphasised that ‘free and fair’ 2014 elections are a crucial point for Afghanistan’s future stability; Ruttig agreed but said he was pessimistic that the framework needed to guarantee this will be in place by then (a conducive security situation, meaningful voter registration etc.). He pointed out that in some aspects there are negative trends, like in the independence of electoral institutions. Ackermann rejected any notion that ISAF forces will play a role in securing the elections – as demanded by Afghan civil society and even urged by government members: ‘The Afghans have to manage that themselves.’ Ruttig argues that, after the shift of many polling stations from rural into urban areas in 2009/10 already, ‘many Afghans will not even get close to a ballot box’. He added that the ‘biggest defeat for the West in Afghanistan’ was that Afghans have lost trust that democracy can be a viable political system for them.
Ackermann also informed that a ‘lessons learned’ from Afghanistan exercise has been initiated by the German government.
Read two German media reports about the Munich discussion here and here.
The BAKS meeting was under Chatham House rules so that representatives of the four German ministries directly involved in the Afghanistan mission (foreign, defence, development, interior, linked to the EU and the separate German police missions) could speak out more openly on the meeting’s subject. Thomas Ruttig, together with a former representative of a German political foundation in Kabul, were invited to present an ‘alternative view’. Obviously, the organisers thought it useful to create such a juxtaposition of assessments.
The government representatives’ resume of the German participation in Afghanistan and of the situation in general, unsurprisingly, was positive. On many points, it took up Ackermann’s statements in Munich (above).
The security situation was mapped out, as usual, in the green-yellow-red spectrum, with a lot of green; but no trend was shown. A trend, though, was not presented. But that has been negative in many areas, particularly in some of the German areas of responsibility in the North (the area of responsibility of the German-led ISAF RC North; Kunduz, Badakhshan and Takhar with their PRTs and sub-PRTs; ’82 per cent of the districts and 85 per cent of the population’ already transitioned), with increasing Taleban activity since a number of years.
German development aid was said to have improved the living conditions of 1.3 million people, mainly in northern Afghanistan, with, among other activities, 60,000 micro-credits and 5,000 businesses (business projects?) supported. A former German MP, however, pointed out that a public evaluation has not been commissioned so far, and demanded that this happened in 2013 – although an election year – so that conclusion can still be drawn before 2014. He praised The Liaison Office’s evaluation of the Dutch ‘Triple D’ approach (diplomacy, development defence) as exemplary.
On the police sector, training capacities for 2,000 policemen have been established and 750 Afghan police trainers will be trained by 2014. Also, in this context, the Afghan government’s performance was criticised: in the police, ‘not the best or most qualified ones’ make it into leadership positions and there are ‘rumours’ that such positions are bought and sold. (Publicly, in a leading TV talk show, German Defence Minister Thomas de Maizière recently had said that his ‘trust’ in the Afghan government was ‘limited’.)
Looking at the post-2014 NATO mission, it was indicated that Germany will shift its participation in training from ‘troop level – which we consider to be stable and well-trained’ to the ‘strategic level’; also support for establishing security studies at universities was mentioned as an option. ISAF was criticised for having extended its work into the political field, like governance and parliament relations, by one of the government-related panelist. On another panel it was confirmed that ISAF HQ’s ‘governance team’ had been working ‘independent from instructions’, an impressive hint at how Western politicians have given up the lead role on strategy, allowing the military to ‘fill the vacuum’ they allowed to emerge.
German intra-ministerial cooperation was praised as ‘very positive and efficient – but it only has become so’ in the process. Later on, the former MP more realistically stated what most participants knew anyway: that there had been divergences in philosophy and approach between some ministries as well as personal animosities that led to strained relations. Criticism was rejected that the government – that just has published new guidelines for working in ‘fragile states’, emphasising working with ‘local traditional structures’ instead of ‘exporting’ democracy – was giving up democratisation as an aim.
One participant took recourse to the ‘Afghan good-enough’ theorem, stating that ‘sustainability – but not on a European standard – has already been achieved for Afghans’, clearly contradicting even the guarded statements of other ministries’ representatives. (While a participant of another panel – with a military background – said this term has been dropped because it might create wrong feeling son the Afghan side.)
Thomas Ruttig emphasised that, with a view on the security situation which is, since last year, on its worst since 2002 when it comes to the number of security incidents and spread of the Taleban, as well as the wide-spread feeling of insecurity among the population, particularly NATO’s military mission has been ‘a failure’. He also pointed out that developmental and social achievements are often been over-presented (emphasising quantity, like number of students, over quality of teaching, for example) and might be unsustainable after 2014.
He pointed out three trends the Afghanistan mission took between 2002 and 2012 and that contributed to the current situation where most troops are withdrawn in a situation that is still unsettled:
1 – from UN to NATO, and de facto US-lead, leading to a marginalisation (and partly destructive politics) of China, India, Russia, Iran and Pakistan
2 – from stabilisation and reconstruction (mainly political) to counter-terrorism and COIN (mainly military), leading to the re-militarisation and de-democratisation (re-empowerment of warlords and militias) of Afghanistan; and, on the part of the foreign military, from protection of the population to force (self-) protection
3 – double standards on drugs, corruption and Transitional Justice from the very beginning
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020