4 July 2008 - NATO PA delegation discusses key challenges in Afghanistan in Washington
Welcoming France back into NATO's integrated command structure, inviting Macedonia to join the Alliance, advance the dialogue with Russia and following through on the ISAF strategy document to improve Afghanistan's security prospects are among the key US goals for NATO this year, according to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe Daniel Fata. Mr. Fata was speaking to members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly's Economics and Security Committee during a June 23-27 visit to Washington and New York. US Congressman John Tanner led the delegation of European and North American parliamentarians that met with senior DoD and State Department officials as well World Bank, IMF and United Nations staff during the trip.
The perilous situation in Afghanistan emerged as a central theme of the meetings, and parliamentarians heard about the range of challenges the Alliance faces in that country. Scott Schless, the Principal Deputy for Central Asia Affairs at the Department of Defense, noted that the coalition is now dedicated to a strategy of "clearing, holding and building" but suggested that problems with the police and justice system threaten Afghanistan's stability. Schless also lamented Allied capability shortcomings in Afghanistan and particularly the dearth of helicopters. This view was echoed in talks at the State Department and with Washington-based policy analysts.
Frederick Barton, Co-director of the Post Conflict Reconstruction Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) was less sanguine about the role of the international community in Afghanistan. He told delegation members that a recent CSIS study, partly predicated on hundreds of interviews with Afghanis, points to growing public anger over the international community's role in the country. There is a widespread perception in that country that international aid monies are not reaching ordinary people and that corrupt officials and highly paid foreigners are responsible for this failure. Barton also suggested that the battle against opium ought to focus on traffickers rather than ordinary farmers. His research indicates that rural development offers the best means of countering the problem.
This view was echoed in delegation consultations at the World Bank which, according to William Byrd, a Bank Adviser on the South Asia Region, is working on ways to enhance its cooperation with security actors like NATO. Bank officials pointed to the great difficulty of coordinating aid among 62 donors. The Bank is administering the trust fund that supports the Afghan budget but many countries continue to channel money to the government bilaterally. This burdens the Afghan government, which continues to have severe capacity problems. Hugh Bayley, the Committee Rapporteur, told Bank officials that the Alliance needs an open debate about the best means to achieve aid effectiveness.
Improving international coordination was also a central theme of the talks at the United Nations. Susanne Freuh of the UN Peace Building Support Office told delegation members that peace building requires an integrated strategy that fully engages all stakeholders in peace operations. At the World Summit in 2005, UN members committed to supporting new peace building architecture to encourage this kind of cooperation. The problem, according to Wolfgang Weisbrod of the UN Department of Peacebuilding Operations, is that while there have been tactical successes in Afghanistan, strategic victory is not yet in sight. The insurgency is sapping the international community's energy. The appointment of Kai Eide could help bring about greater coordination, but if 80% of foreign aid to that country remains bilateral in nature, then the prospects for ultimate success will remain dim. Throughout the week various speakers urged delegation members to encourage their own governments to coordinate national aid strategies with the international community.