23-26 October -BUREAU AND COMMITTEE OFFICERS’ VISIT TO AFGHANISTAN [Secretariat Report]
1. A delegation of senior members of parliament from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly visited Afghanistan in October 2008 in order to assess the state of the international community’s engagement in that country. Over the four-day visit to Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif, the delegation met with President Hamid Karzai, senior government officials, and members of the Afghan Parliament as well as a provincial governor. The delegation, which included parliamentarians from Canada, Germany, and the UK, also met with the ISAF Commander, General David McKiernan, and his subordinates, as well as UN and EU officials.
2. The themes and opinions expressed by interlocutors were diverse and sometimes conflicting. While most suggested there was reason for cautious optimism, and that the sense of pessimism widely conveyed by the western media was somewhat overblown, several underlined that the next several months will be crucial to determining the medium and long-term future of Afghanistan. The coming period will feature the run-up to the 2009 presidential elections, as well as an ambitious program to promote governance at the sub-national level. With several key Ministers newly in place, the prospect for progress in several areas was real; however, insecurity and corruption continued to hamper efforts in all sectors.
3. Officials from NATO and the Coalition underlined that an effective strategy was in place, but that the military effort, while absolutely necessary, could not by itself create security and stability. The delegation was universally told that sustainable solutions in Afghanistan will require long term and steadfast effort by the broad range of international actors, whose contributions, while sometimes flawed, were greatly appreciated by Afghans overall.
4. The visit coincided with a number of pessimistic assessments of the prospects for Afghanistan in western press, a perception not shared by the NATO Senior Civilian Representative, Ambassador Fernando Gentilini. He listed a number of positive strategic achievements this year, including the strengthening of the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the arrival in Kabul of UN Special Representative, Kai Eide, in March, as well as NATO’s agreement on the ISAF Strategic Vision at the April Bucharest Summit in meetings including President Karzai and the UN Secretary General. He also praised the new funds generated at the June donor’s conference, under the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS), which itself provided an overall framework for the international community’s coordinated efforts under the three pillars of security, development, and governance.
5. The recent cabinet re-shuffle by President Hamid Karzai was widely seen as an encouraging step. In particular, the new Ministers of the Interior and of Agriculture were seen as especially competent and wise choices, given the challenges for the former (corruption throughout, especially in the Afghan National Police) and the latter (a threatening food crisis). The re-shuffle would likely encourage donor countries and organizations to redouble their efforts.
6. The Presidential elections scheduled for 2009 were said to have the potential to re-energize the political process both domestically and internationally and could be seen as a continuation of the Bonn process. Ensuring these elections were conducted in a legitimate manner should be a priority, the delegation was told. A four-phase voter registration process in advance of these elections had begun only weeks before the delegation’s arrival and was making progress; there had been no concerted efforts made to disrupt it.
7. The timing of the election was under discussion, with practical considerations (such as the weather) dictating elections in the autumn. However, Mirwais Yasini, Deputy Speaker of the Lower House (Wolesi Jirga) told the delegation that, on the basis of provisions of the Constitution, elections should be held in March or April. The delegation suggested that this was a question for the Afghans to decide.
8. Finally, the possibility of “reconciliation” of some elements of the insurgency to the mainstream political process, including a reported initiative involving Saudi Arabia, was discussed with many interlocutors. Any “reconciling” insurgent would have to recognize the Afghan Constitution and the principles on which it is founded, as well as renouncing violence. Such efforts would have to be led by the Government of Afghanistan and would optimally be negotiated from a position of strength.
9. An element of consensus among interlocutors was the need to increase the involvement and empowerment of Afghans in the political process, especially at the local level. This was a central element both in the military strategy pursued by ISAF and the Afghan government’s sub-national governance program.
MEETING WITH PRESIDENT KARZAI
10. The delegation was received by President Hamid Karzai for an extensive dialogue on a wide range of issues. President Karzai suggested that great progress had been made since the fall of the Taliban in areas such as schooling and healthcare. But he regretted mistakes that had been made, such as the belated recognition of the danger of Pakistani sanctuaries and involvement. He knew that Pakistan had also suffered; he was glad that relations with the new government of Pakistan were improving and that there were private discussions at all levels.
11. Addressing reports of reconciliation efforts and the involvement of Saudi Arabia, the President affirmed that he agreed with assessments that a military solution alone was no solution at all. After all, after six years of military operations and civilian casualties, the situation was certainly no better. He pressed for appropriate support from the international community for reconciliation efforts and the involvement of the Saudis, suggesting the Islamic world needed to be involved in order to defeat a problem perpetuated in the name of Islam.
12. Iran’s role had been positive overall, Karzai told the delegation, although some problems were evident. He had no first-hand evidence to confirm rumours of Iranian support to the Taliban, he said, and was grateful for Iran’s general support for international involvement in Afghanistan. The international community had to recognize that Iran was and would remain Afghanistan’s neighbour.
13. President Karzai said that efforts to promote sub-national governance are an absolute priority, suggesting that it was essential to bring community-based security back to Afghanistan, a concept that had traditionally worked well. President Karzai also pleaded for greater involvement of Afghans in the planning and conduct of operations, which could otherwise be endangered by poor intelligence and cause critical damage to the reputation of international forces among the Afghan public. He also lamented the use of private security companies, which thrived on insecure environments.
14. Combating corruption was an exceptionally difficult challenge due to the poverty in which most Afghans live and the corrosive effect of the narcotics trade, coupled with weak governance structures and administrative capacity. This would be a years-long effort. President Karzai lamented the fact that the contracts structured by donors often resulted in funding channelling back to western contractors, rather than to Afghans.
Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin (CA) and President Hamid Karzai
15. Given continued progress, the President believed that Afghanistan would soon be a peaceful, small country that posed no threat to its neighbours or the international community. However, even in the best scenario, Afghanistan would continue to struggle with poverty, lack of education, and narcotics and governance problems, much like other poor countries throughout the world.
16. General David McKiernan, Commander of ISAF, did not believe the insurgency was stronger than the previous year; it did not have the same level of ambition of, for example, controlling Kandahar. Rather, its tactics and strategy had adjusted to wage a campaign of fear through asymmetrical terrorist activities. He described the insurgency as a “syndicate” that brought together numerous groups including, but not limited to the Taliban, with diverse and overlapping interests.
17. The ISAF Commander informed the delegation that he had recently been “dual-hatted” as Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, which put him in command of an additional 10,900 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. This allowed for the application of U.S. military assets across the entire territory of Afghanistan and for improved unity of effort. The General also praised the recent transfer of lead security to Afghans for the city of Kabul, suggesting this success could be repeated elsewhere in Afghanistan.
18. ISAF was employing a “Shape, Clear, Hold, Build” strategy: shaping the environment before an operation through meetings with local shuras and other leadership; clearing an area of insurgents; holding it in order to prevent re-infiltration and retribution by the Taliban; and building through development and reconstruction projects in order to provide a tangible benefit to the local population.
19. Local officials should be more involved in NATO operations, the General stated, given their extensive knowledge of the terrain and local conditions. ISAF was undertaking a new approach to community outreach, involving local shuras (councils) and promoting a “bargain” between local authorities, who would take responsibility for their communities, and the central government, which would pledge the necessary resources to support them.
Frank Cook (UK) with Jack Segal JFC
20. The approach was both comprehensive (taking into account governance and development as well as security) and integrated (in cooperation with the government and other international actors). Using the Comprehensive Approach and focusing on governance and development as well as security was necessary, the General told the delegation, as was the need for sustained international will and improved continuity of effort.
21. General McKiernan suggested that all NATO nations should be pursuing a counter-insurgency approach, even if this term was not included in NATO doctrines or documents. The fact that many nations did not want their military forces working with the Afghan National Police (ANP) was “fundamentally wrong for the 21st century,” he suggested. In the next several years, protecting the Afghan people would require the development of a paramilitary capacity within the ANP. The General believed the training of the Afghan National Security Forces would eventually reach a tipping point at which ISAF could hand over security responsibilities and be withdrawn from Afghanistan, a prospect that remained some years off, according to the General.
The Delegation at Regional Command-North in Mazar-e-Sharif, with RC(North) Commander Brigadier General Juergen Weigt (GER)
22. Discussing ISAF’s role in counter-narcotics, General McKiernan told the group that existing authorities allowed NATO to support the government of Afghanistan’s efforts by, for example, providing logistics, in extremis support, and medical evacuation. NATO was in discussions on broadening these authorities to include direct action against insurgent-linked narcotics targets. The General supported greater interdiction efforts, arguing that the estimated $100 million annual drug revenue accruing to the Taliban paid for weapons that were killing NATO soldiers. He did not advocate NATO’s involvement in eradication, noting that this could negatively affect public opinion of ISAF.
23. Lamenting the continued presence of operational caveats, General McKiernan stated his view that NATO had an inherent advantage over any adversary in Afghanistan through intelligence, speed, firepower, logistics and other attributes; national caveats reduced those advantages and put NATO soldiers at higher risk. In addition, insurgents are fully aware of national caveats and plan their own activities accordingly.
24. The General called for full resourcing of validated military requirements; finding a better approach to developing the human capital of Afghanistan in order to ensure that it is not completely dependent on the international community indefinitely; and working to deny safe havens to the insurgency.
25. The Minister of Defence, Abdul Rahim Wardak, expressed confidence that with continued help from the international community, Afghanistan could contain the threat, control the security situation, and eventually reverse negative trends. While the ANA should be considered a success story, it still lacked enabling capabilities to allow it full independence, including air assets and reconnaissance. Eventually, the Minister believed the ANA would participate in peacekeeping missions abroad to repay the Afghan debt to the international community.
26. Minister Wardak called for greater sharing of intelligence and joint planning with Afghan officials, and suggested increased “Afghanization” of operations, such as sending Afghan forces to make arrests. He also underlined his concern regarding friendly-fire incidents and civilian casualties.
27. The delegation learned that the challenges facing the ANP continue to pose a major obstacle to ensuring security at the local level. With a 70% illiteracy rate among recruits, and a high level of drug dependency, ANP personnel were often seen as “soft targets” by the insurgency and targeted disproportionately; as a result, the ANP has suffered a high level of casualties (over 1,000 to date). Most interlocutors called for maximum support to the substantial anti-corruption efforts and police reforms undertaken by the new Minister of the Interior, Mohammad Hanif Atmar.
28. The Delegation was briefed on the EU Police Training Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL), by the Deputy Head of Mission, Colonel Umberto Rocca and his staff, whose mission was to monitor, advise, and mentor police officials, stood at 174 personnel and a decision had been reached in May to double its size. All personnel were senior police officers with professional backgrounds, under a low-quantity, but high-quality, approach. EUPOL also continued to seek support from some member states’ Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in theatre, Colonel Rocca stated.
The Delegation briefed by Senior Officials from EUPOL Afghanistan
29. The United States had taken a different approach in police training, according to Major General Robert Cone, Commander of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, who stated that, of overall resources spent on police training, the U.S. was committing 95% of the total and had deployed 2,700 trainers. General Cone, who leads the U.S. element of the organization responsible for rendering Afghan National Security Forces operational, suggested that tours of duty in Afghanistan should be no less than 12-16 months. He asserted that this was the minimum time necessary for his personnel to develop the trust required for effective collaboration with Afghan personnel. Accordingly, Operational Liaison and Mentoring Teams (OMLTs) provided by NATO nations should be in theatre for one year, he suggested.
30. The ANA was a success story, according to interlocutors including General Cone. While it still faced some weaknesses, such as logistics and command and control, the ANA was fully engaged against the insurgency and was achieving significant victories while increasingly leading operations. There were no recruitment problems, and conscription was not an option on the table. General Cone suggested that investing in the security forces’ salaries was important in development and governance as well, given that the soldiers were sending their wages home to tribe and family, thus tying local structures to the central government.
31. The ANA’s operating strength is increasing quickly and approval has been given for its eventual doubling in size to 134,000 personnel. Over the long term, the ANA would cost over $3 billion to sustain annually. This would not be sustainable in the long term by the Afghan government alone; General Cone, however, regarded this a reasonable investment given the $50 billion annual cost of maintaining international forces in Afghanistan today. Defence Minister Wardak was optimistic that long-term economic growth in Afghanistan would in the long run allow Afghanistan to sustain its armed forces independently.
32. General Cone suggested that ISAF’s mandate should include police training, and that the U.S. could provide funding to build facilities and provide equipment to accelerate the growth of the ANP, but that he would not authorize its release if the requisite number of trainers were not available.
33. The Delegation also visited ISAF’s Regional Commands Capital and North. At Regional Command-Capital (RC-C), the Delegation learned that lead security responsibility for Kabul had been assumed by Afghan security forces in August, a move that was widely viewed as a success, as evidenced by the 50% decrease in security incidents in the capital. RC-C Commander Brigadier General, Michel Stollsteiner, disputed reports that Kabul was “encircled”, suggesting that the presence of insurgents and their freedom of action in the area was limited. The delegation also learned about the Command’s extensive civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) activities, which were often coordinated with operations such as security sweeps.
The Delegation briefed by Senior Officials from EUPOL Afghanistan
34. The Commander of Regional Command North (RC-N) argued that while the north of Afghanistan was comparatively stable, it could not be taken for granted that the area was the completely safe place that reporting suggested. Commander Weigt saw a variety of threats to his area of operations, but suggested he had the forces required to confront any eventuality. He emphasized consolidating gains made in the region by increasing development efforts there. Commander Weigt suggested that reform of the Afghan police was a key concern in his region, and that the quality and quantity of trained police were both important.
35. Many interlocutors pointed to the need to strengthen local governance as central to state building in Afghanistan. In August 2007, the Afghan government had created the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) to establish an institutional, legal and financial framework to improve the operating capacity of the government at a local level.
36. Jelani Popal, the Director of IDLG, told the delegation that the international community’s initial exclusive focus on supporting the central government had allowed a void to emerge at the local level, which had been filled, in some areas, by the Taliban. For example, EU Special Representative Ambassador, Ettore Segui, warned of the creation of parallel structures by the Taliban. He explained that in the absence of a reliable justice system, Taliban courts had emerged in Helmand province and were actively resolving property disputes. Contrary to official institutions, these courts made decisions quickly and were in a position to enforce them.
37. The IDLG was therefore created to supervise provincial and district governors, as well as provincial councils and municipalities outside of Kabul. Among its most visible achievements thus far was the replacement of 13 provincial governors; it has also prompted progress of legislation that will mandate delegation of authority and funding to provinces.
DEVELOPMENT AND HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE
38. Regarding NATO’s system of PRTs, Jelani Popal, sought to cooperate with PRTs to implement government priorities through Provincial Development Plans, which were based on projects suggested by locals. Popal sought the PRTs’ assistance in developing Afghan capacity at the provincial level for planning and budgeting, to avoid PRTs becoming substitutes for local government and thus undermining local officials. He also called for the civilian elements of PRTs to be strengthened and to remain in country for longer than 6-month tours in order to ensure continuity. Finally, he suggested that PRTs focus more on long-term projects rather than exclusively on quick-impact ones. Popal affirmed that one kilometre of road financed via Afghan channels would cost $500,000, while the same kilometre, built through direct bilateral assistance, would cost no less than $1,000,000.
39. No actor in Afghanistan had an accurate assessment of how much aid was coming into Afghanistan, according to Tom Gregg, Special Assistant to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Kai Eide. UNAMA was bringing in a new official on “aid effectiveness” to make an accurate assessment.
40. The delegation was hosted by UNAMA’s northern regional office in Mazar-E-Sharif for a series of briefings on subjects including refugee repatriation; economic challenges; the precarious state of children in the region; the endemic challenges of corruption compounded by weak rule of law; challenges to freedom of expression; and capacity building at the local level.
41. EU Special Representative Segui briefed the delegation on the extensive humanitarian challenges caused by the recent severe winter followed by a severe drought, which in turn, for example, result in the price of wheat increasing by 300%. Four to six million Afghans could be affected over the coming winter, according to Segui.
42. UNAMA regional officials called for donor funds to be channelled through Afghan authorities rather than bilaterally, and in particular for greater use of the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund by donors in order to increase Afghan ownership of development projects.
43. Pointing out a $21.9 billion shortfall in aid expected over the next five years, UNAMA regional officials called for increased funding of long-term projects over quick-impact proposals, and for increased investment in the extraction of the region’s mineral resources, which could be exploited for Afghanistan’s long-term gain. While a construction boom and other increased economic activities were evident in the provincial capital, they noted, very little aid was reaching Afghans at the district level, and their lives had not improved appreciably since the fall of the Taliban.
44. The delegation also met with the Governor of the Balkh province, Ustad Atta Mohammed Noor. Governor Atta suggested greater efficiency could result from increased use of local governance structures and labor rather than western contractors. He confirmed his region’s potential and unexplored mineral wealth, as well as other types of economic activity with untapped potential, such as carpet making and the export of dried fruit. He called for greater overall coordination among international forces and donors, as well as increased involvement of Afghans in planning processes.
45. The delegation met with a group of eight female members of the Afghan Parliament, whose concerns centred on deteriorating security conditions (both nationally and individually) and economic difficulties. One parliamentarian from Helmand Province explained that, for security reasons, she had not been able to travel to her district for three years; another stated that her brother had been killed by insurgents in retaliation for her political activities. Kidnappings of civilians were on the rise, as were incidents of civilian casualties caused by international forces continued, the parliamentarians stated. The absence of rule of law crippled society, they argued, and the police forces were nearly powerless. Suggestions from the MPs included employing more local youths to provide security for highways; a more active NATO involvement in counter-narcotics; and increased vocational education and training for women by the international community. One parliamentarian also recommended a re-structuring of the international forces in Afghanistan to focus exclusively on border security.
The Delegation with a group of eight female members of the Afghan Parliament
46. Speaker Yasini expressed gratitude for the continued access of Afghan parliamentarians to NATO Parliamentary Assembly activities, suggesting that any opportunity for Afghans to learn from the experience of their colleagues abroad was helpful. The Speaker of the Upper House (Meshrano Jirga), Hazrat Sibghatulla al-Mojaddedi, also confirmed to the delegation that discussions were ongoing between the Afghan and Pakistani parliaments. Finally, the delegation as a whole underlined the importance of such dialogue and suggested the Assembly could play a useful role in promoting it.
• President Hamid Karzai
• ISAF Commander, General David D. McKiernan
OTHER INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
• Head of UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Kai Eide
NATO PA PARTICIPANTS
• Assembly Treasurer and former Vice-President, Pierre Claude NOLIN (Canada)