While the 70 or so delegations to the London conference are already sitting in Lancaster House, here some first thought about what is being discussed and what not. No claim to be exhaustive here.
Let me start with the German discussion because it points to one of the core problems. What mainly is looked at is the fact that the German government is sending additional troops: 500 new soldiers plus the 350 that are already in Afghanistan and who will be re-dedicated from some other assignment.
Remark one: Military considerations still dominate the discussion and the agenda of this discussion is set by domestic issues. (I know I also start with this issue here.) In the German case: three quarters of the public support a withdrawal of German soldiers from Afghanistan, so the government sends 500 (or 850) more to answer the demands from NATO but remain at the lower limit of figures that had been discussed before: between 500 and 1500. It also has to address the concerns of the soldiers in Afghanistan who increasingly feel left alone because the aim of their mission is put into question by many at home.
Secondly, Chancellor Angela Merkel does the right thing when she assures President Hamed Karzai (who was visiting Berlin on his way to London) that Germany would continue to support Afghanistan after the international troops withdraw some day. This answers the concerns of many Afghans who are confused and worried by our exit strategy and time line discussions. They need to be assured that development and institutional cooperation as well as financial aid indeed will continue. (Karzai already said that Afghanistan needs 15 year to be able to pay for its security forces – and I hope he is not too optimistic).
At the same time, the government in Kabul needs to be held accountable for its activities in developing internal revenues – not only just because of the security forces though. It is also responsible for the civilian sector, social services etc. It also should be urged not just to harvest the ‘low-hanging fruit”, i.e. defenseless shop keepers and NGO workers. Do the warlords who own all the new shopping malls and import businesses pay adequate tax?
Back to the troops discussion for a moment: The German government says it wants to start withdrawing its soldiers in 2011. NATO Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen says the troops will stay as long as they are needed. (Well, probably some of them.) I just heard someone from NATO say at a public conference that the mission is ‘condition-driven not timeline-driven’. This does not sound like a coherent approach of the NATO member countries.
Germany also promised to triple its police and military trainers and decided that they can be embedded in Afghan units now. But the police unions in Germany are already comment ing that the German police is not designed to work in a civil war situation. And Berlin already had difficulties to fill all the current EUPOL and German police project vacancies. Policemen, at least here, cannot simply be ordered to Afghanistan. The same goes for development experts. German Agro Action, a renowned and Afghanistan-experienced NGO, just closed its shop in Taloqan for security reasons. Other countries will face the same problem with their plans to increase civilian cooperation with Afghanistan. Consequently, not only the Afghan government needs to be watched regarding its performance but also the donor country government: whether their London pledges are really implemented.
I will not repeat myself at length on the issue of the impossibility of a (primarily) military solution. We need a political approach to things in Afghanistan.
And here, I am not convinced that the new ‘reintegration plan’ jumps far enough. Most Taleban are not motivated by economic incentives – and to know that, we do not need the Taleban statement saying this. Are we actually sure that all the Taleban fighters (or a large part of them) are really regularly paid? Do you really believe a Kabul university student or a farmer in Uruzgan who buries an IED and triggers it does that for 10 dollars? A bit of hatred is surely part of it, and this hatred can have different reasons: from being marginalized and even persecuted in your village to madrassa brainwashing.
What is needed is a political accommodation with the Taleban and other insurgent groups. Not with moderate but with the Taleban, even if we (and many Afghans) do not like it. Peeling off some individuals or groups will not end the war, most probably even not reduce the violence significantly.
At the same time, the very valid concerns of women, ethnic groups massacred by the Taleban and others need to be addressed. Our governments should not make the mistake and buy in too quickly into what looks like a good (first ever) plan of the Kabul government. The plan needs to be consulted with all relevant social and political groups in the country. (Dr Abdullah also has just demanded this, but probably for other reasons.) This needs to be done, quickly, but not too quickly. It needs to be genuine, not token.
And the issue of human rights violations and impunity linked to it – on all sides – needs to be addressed in this regard. Many Afghans believe that ‘reconciliation’ just means adding a couple of warlords still out in the cold (mountains) to those inside the warm Kabul institutions. Who wants such a government? We are also talking about good governance, aren’t we? Or is this just lip-service because we do not expect that it really will happen in Arghandab, Bala Murghab, Imam Saheb and Shebarghan?
Yes, this will make the issue of ‘reconciliation’ even more complicated than it already is. But there is no way around it – unless you want to have half of the population against you.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020