Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

International Engagement

German Government Reviews Afghan ‘Progress’

Thomas Ruttig 5 min

The online part of German magazine Spiegel comments on the Berlin government’s last update on the situation in Afghanistan* and says that it highlights the ‘open contradictions’ in Afghanistan’s ‘progress’. The magazine quotes German AfPak special envoy Michael Steiner as saying that he wants to give an ‘unvarnished picture’ and that he sees both ‘light and shade’ in it. AAN’s Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig picks up a few points under-emphasised in the article.

The new German report is indeed hitting a few hard points home. It notes, as Spiegel writes, that the Karzai government ‘has failed until now to keep any of the promises it made to promote efficient governance, set up a transparent legal system, and respect human rights’ and that the implementation of the objectives agreed at the Kabul Conference 2010 make only ‘slow progress’.

The report reaches its apogee of clarity where it deals with the Kabul Bank scandal pointing out that ‘important actors of Afghanistan’s political class and business elite’ are implicated in it and that the Karzai government missed the opportunity to ‘clear up the corruption case in an exemplary manner.’

When the report comes to the drug issue, it becomes a bit more ambivalent. ‘No tangible progress’ has been made on this, too, since the Kabul Conference. In fact, there have been significant setbacks. This is stated in a recent AREU report which the German government’s paper fails to note. (Otherwise it is pretty up-to-date.) It must be particularly embarrassing for Berlin that AREU describes in detail the re-surge of poppy production in those two northern provinces where German forces bear part of the responsibility: in Balkh, with the German-led ISAF RC North, declared ‘poppy-free’** in 2006 despite ongoing opium transit trade and strongly increasing hashish production, and in Badakhshan where a German PRT is deployed. Although the area on which poppy is cultivated again does not reach the size of the status quo ante, the increase compared with last year is drastic: it doubled in Badakhshan, and in Balkh it reached again 50 per cent of the last pre-’poppy free’ year.

On security, Berlin expectedly buys into the US/NATO/ISAF line that there are ‘signs of a beginning stabilisation’, that ‘the advance of the insurgent movement’ was ‘largely stopped’ this year and ISAF/ANSF ‘regained the initiative in wide parts of the country’, that the Taleban spring offensive hasn’t been a success because ‘no districts’ cleared by Western and government troops were ‘recaptured’ and that the wave of Taleban terrorist attacks are ‘in no way a reflection of strength but a reaction to the unchanged high military pressure’ on them. But it is also stated that it is too early to judge whether these ‘successes’ will be ‘sustainable’ and ‘change the trend’.

The question here is: Does the German government use the right criteria? It assumes that the Taleban follow tactical aims, i.e. that they want to re-capture territory. It rather seems that they prove their tactical flexibility and increased military professionalism by copying the US targeting and by successfully infiltrating the ANSF and other governmental institutions. The killing of police general Daud in Taloqan and the Kabul Interconti attacks show that they possess inside knowledge about important meetings they then are going to attack.

A bit optimistic is also the part about ‘reconciliation’. It says that the ‘political process’ – that started with the 2010 Consultative Peace Jirga and the establishment of the High Peace Council (HPC) – addresses ‘the roots of conflicts (in Afghanistan)’. This just ignores that a wide array of Afghan civil society actors, parts of the former Northern Alliance and even former Taleban who have remained outside the HPC are more than sceptical about the council and the narrow ‘reconciliation’ approach adopted.

As ten leading Afghan civil society organisations expressed in an Open Letter to the German parliament in late May, ‘the HCP has no defined agenda, […] is busy distributing money and releasing Taliban […] Negotiations held [with them] by the international community should be transparent, and the Afghan government has to be encouraged to protect and involve, first and foremost, its own people before making commitments to those who will not commit to peace’ (read its English translation here). Many Afghans argue that leading HPC members have been, and still are, part of the problem and not of the solution, having been deeply involved in the conflict, related human rights abuses and war crimes while having granted themselves a self-amnesty from those crimes.

On the Afghan parliament, the report is disappointingly besides the situation when saying that the newly elected body ‘increasingly formulates its claim that the government is accountable to it and to assert itself as a self-confident organisation’. The proof given is weak: its ‘decision to postpone its summer recess for two weeks in June 2011 [in order to] exercise its right to confirm [or not] President Karzai’s personnel proposals [for the cabinet]’. This fight is mainly a tit-for-tat to prevent the Special Election Tribunal designated by the president (which is not mentioned in the report) from excluding 62 MPs and mainly personally motivated. Here, it is indeed too early to say whether the new parliament, the final composition of which we do not know at all, will be ‘self-confident’ or as divided and susceptible for manipulation as the previous one when only its members will have secured their seats.

What the report also fails to mention is that the first real stand-off the Wolesi Jirga won against the president was its inauguration which Karzai had been postponing time and again. Characteristically, it was the decision of Western ambassadors to attend the inauguration unilaterally scheduled by the MPs that forced Karzai to give in and open the house – a clear sign that the West still has some leverage. (And Western governments were able to tick the box of benchmark ‘Parliament inaugurated’ – but what about the benchmark ‘Parliament functioning?’)

This was just a small battle won and, of course, doesn’t say anything about how the whole war will end. As we see, it did not prevent the president from throwing some more ‘hand grenades’ into the Wolesi Jirga (as one observer in Kabul recently put it) in order to undermine its credibility. With the current mess, no one knowing who’s in and who’s out, that seems to be a successful strategy to prevent constitutional checks-and-balances coming to bear.

Finally, there are not only contradictory trends in progress made in Afghanistan but also in the German report about it: The main contradiction is between the report’s clear words on all the broken promises, the Kabul Bank crisis and the resulting loss of credibility of the Afghan government on one hand and the euphemistic statement that the Afghan government has not left ‘the course embarked upon’ with the Kabul, London and other conferences on the other hand. Indeed: the Afghan government has not changed the course not to meet most benchmarks set there.

Why this contraction is left in the report, Spiegel explains: ‘Despite the lack of progress, particularly on the part of the Afghan Government […], Berlin wants to stick to its withdrawal plans just as all other NATO states.’
(*) The original report can be found here (in German, an English translation is not available yet); all quotes in the blog are either AAN working translations or, where indicated, quoted from Spiegel. The Spiegel article (title: “Close your eyes and get out’) is quoted from BBC Monitoring (also no English translation available yet; the German original is here).

(**) The AREU paper ‘Opium Poppy Strikes Back’ recommends – amongst other things – to scrap ‘the notion of “poppy free” […] as an indicator of success’.


Afpak Germany