10th Asian Security Conference

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  • Rapporteur Report on Session IV: Future of Afghanistan

    February 6, 2008
    Prepared by Arpita Mathur & Gunjan Singh

    Professor Ali A. Jalali: Afghanistan: The Struggle to Regain Momentum

    • NATO Defence Ministers meeting in Lithuanisa on February 7 and 8, 2008. The main aim of the meeting is to discuss how to stabilise the situation in Afghanistan and the ways and means to stop the decline.
    • The three primary issues that need to be discussed in relation to Afghanistan are – Governance, Insurgency and the Drug problem.
    • Afghanistan was the least resourced American-led nation building operations since the end of World War II.
    • Afghanistan has always been described as the major front of the global war on terror.
    • Even though the Taliban were removed from power, their seat of external support and their potential to come back to power were not addressed.
    • The lack of proper use of the already insufficient funds, which is outside the control of the Afghan government, has failed to create economic opportunities, good governance and the rule of law.
    • This has also led to an increase in the illegal narcotics trade.
    • Even though the situation is looking not so positive, there is still hope that Afghanistan can be stabilised and its decline stopped.
    • There is a major increase in the support base for democracy in Afghanistan.
    • The Afghanis do not perceive the Taliban or any other non-state power holder as an alternative to the current political system.
    • There is renewed international attention on Afghanistan as it is transforming into a factor for regional instability.
    • The transformation of Afghanistan from conflict to peace will require creation of a set of institutions, capacities, resources and provisions for the rule of law.
    • The situation is further complicated as the various actors enter Afghanistan with different and uneven levels of commitment.
    • Good governance is hampered because of lack of government control over the institutions and procedures that facilitates changes in the country.
    • Without the state controlling the central role, public goods contributed by different actors tend to be uncoordinated, unstable, and transient and more supply driven than demand driven.
    • The need today is building effective governance at the provincial and district levels for achieving legitimacy and stabilisation.
    • The rule of law is at the heart of any government’s legitimacy and a prerequisite for human security. However, there has been a failure on the part of the international community in reforming the law enforcement and justice sector.
    • There are three major hurdles to any efforts towards counter narcotics in Afghanistan. They are a record production of opium due to the loss of state control, consolidation of the drug trade in a network of politicians and traffickers, and disagreement over any counter narcotics strategy among representatives of the international community.
    • More than 90 per cent of the narcotics produced in Afghanistan goes to the international market.
    • Given the multi-dimensional nature of the narcotics problem in Afghanistan, efforts should be made at almost all the levels to eradicate the problem. They should be at the levels of security, economic growth and governance.
    • There are no quick and simple solutions to the problem.
    • Removing Taliban from the South of Afghanistan will not solve the problem.
    • There is a need for money for the eradication process. Only then there can be complete eradication. Foreign assistance is required for this.
    • The Taliban-led insurgency is waged in a very volatile socio-political environment. It is not the same as the insurgency of the 1980s against the Soviet Union.
    • What is driving the people to fight is not merely the ideology but the unstable environment.
    • The most serious problem in fighting insurgency is the lack of a shared vision and co-ordination. It needs to be carried out through an integrated military, political and developmental effort.
    • NATO forces have to try and consolidate their efforts to make the situation stable. They need to isolate the people from the insurgents and win their hearts and minds.
    • There needs to be co-ordination in the strategy in Afghanistan. Negotiation with insurgents has not been incorporated in the combined strategy. It has been pursued at different levels by different actors and thus has not been successful at all.
    • As long as there is instability in the south, Kabul will be in a weak position to gain favourable deals through negotiations.
    • Counter-insurgency in Afghanistan cannot work unless it takes Pakistan into account.
    • The reversal of the negative trends can take place only through a realistic assessment of the situation and by adopting a strategic action plan to achieve immediate and long tern goals. The state building process in Afghanistan is closely linked with the defeat of insurgency.

    Seth G. Jones: Taking Stock of the Afghan Conflict

    • The main problem today in Afghanistan is the collapse of the government and the process of building a viable government.
    • Domestic politics in Afghanistan resembles the anarchic situation in International Relations.
    • The economic index of Afghanistan has been showing positive results in the past few years.
    • There is 63 per cent support for President Karzai among the Afghans.
    • A range of qualitative and quantitative data indicates that there is an increase in the level of violent insurgency that threatens the country. Between 2002 and 2006, the number of insurgent-initiated attacks increased by 400 per cent and the number of deaths by these attacks increased by 800 per cent.
    • Several provinces of Kabul have become dangerous. The situation has become very unstable and the insurgency has pushed into the major centres of the country.
    • It has been argued that financially, organisationally and politically weak central governments render insurgencies more feasible and attractive due to weak local policing or inept counter-insurgency practices.
    • Success depends on building new institutions capable of fighting future conflicts peacefully and also a growing economy that would be capable of providing employment to former soldiers and material progress to future citizens.
    • The Afghan government today is incapable of providing economic gains and benefits to the rural population.
    • Poor governance increases the likelihood of insurgency as the security forces are not capable and they also lack the legitimacy to establish law and order.
    • The insurgency in Afghanistan is not about religion, as a lot of people believe.
    • The primary challenge is one of governance.
    • Another important challenge today is corruption.
    • The limited role of NATO has also undermined governance.
    • The major insurgent groups including the Taliban have sanctuary outside the country, in Pakistan. This makes it all the more problematic to deal with.
    • There are no short term solutions. Outside support has been at its all time low in the past few years.
    • One important step that needs to be taken is in directly dealing with the problem of corruption in the government.
    • The US army was not ready to take on a peace keeping mission in Afghanistan as it was busy in Iraq.
    • As the insurgents in Afghanistan have a sanctuary in Pakistan, this problem should be understood as a regional problem.
    • Pakistan needs to conduct a sustained campaign against key Taliban, al-Qaeda and other extremist forces residing in its territory.
    • This insurgency is threatening both the Afghan Government and the Pakistan Government and thus leading to a regional instability.

    C. Christine Fair: Impact of the GWOT upon Talibanisation and Militancy in Pakistan

    • Pakistan is an ally of the US but it is a problematic ally.
    • When the Pew Survey posed the question whether suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets as justified in defending Islam in 2002, one third of the respondents believed that such attacks were often and sometimes justified. In March 2004, this number increased to 41 per cent. In 2005 this figure declined to 25 per cent and it was 14 per cent in 2006. In 2007 only 9 per cent believed that such attacks were always and mostly justified.
    • Many Pakistanis believe that Askari Tanzeems do present critical threats to Pakistan’s vital interests, while an equal number believes that they advance the security of the Kashmiris in Indian administered Kashmir. So while they do threaten Pakistan they also have some usefulness by operating outside of Pakistan.
    • For “Indian” targets, the level of support was somewhat consistent, though lower than the Kashmir-specific targets. Support for attacks on Indian military personnel and civilian infrastructure and government institutions are deemed sometimes justified. The support increases when the violence is in connection with the Kashmir dispute.
    • Other responses suggested that Pakistanis are more likely to condone Taliban activities when they target Western forces and much more apprehensive to do so if the victims are Afghan forces.
    • In relation to the situation in FATA, the general perception was that the government should try and maintain the situation through negotiation, and nearly one in four believed that the military should be used if needed in FATA. Only a few small sections believe that the military should withdraw completely.
    • This shows that the most objectionable aspect in FATA has been the military strategy and people are in favour of negotiations.
    • A majority is also in favour of the Pakistan army’s pursuit of Taliban insurgents who have crossed over to Afghanistan from Pakistan.
    • There is universal opposition to allowing American and other foreign troops to enter Pakistan to pursue and capture al-Qaeda and similar levels of opposition for the same troops to engage in pursuit of Taliban figures crossing into Pakistan from Afghanistan.
    • On ‘political reform’ of FATA, a large section favoured modification.
    • On the question of the support of the Pakistani government to militant groups fighting in Indian-administered Kashmir, the largest section decided not to respond. Only a small section believed that the government does provide support to these groups.
    • Counter-insurgency is not the specialisation of the Pakistani Army and they are only trained to counter India.
    • Pakistan army is completely demoralised in FATA as they are fighting their own people and that too not that successfully.

    Anita Inder Singh: Reconstructing Afghanistan After the Overthrow of the Taliban

    • Anti-terrorism and reconstruction are twin strands of international players in Afghanistan.
    • Afghanistan is the frontline state against terrorism.
    • Rise in Taliban operations by 17 per cent, points to a flawed strategy.
    • Non-consolidation of state authority an important factor; also the threat of warlords (and their alliance with US forces) and lack of economic development, symbolised by opium economy
    • Afghanistan produces more than 90 per cent of the world’s opium. Half of its GNP is earned through opium trade.
    • Much of opium ends up in Europe. Warlords are strengthening authority through smuggling, drug trafficking and illegal transit fee.
    • Evidence points to the fact that Pakistan trains and exports terrorists, without which Taliban would not get help.
    • Is it not time for the US to push for change, from depending on Pakistan as an ally?
    • You cannot have reconstruction without security and stability.
    • Amount of aid by the EU is very little compared to that provided by the US. Reconstruction strategy not bearing fruit due to inadequate funding. Of the $4,560 billion aid allocated by the US in 2002, only $90 billion was given to the Karzai government. Of the $ 87 billion aid package for Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003, 80 per cent was spent on relief programmes rather than on reconstruction.
    • Problems plaguing Afghanistan include differences between local warlords, disarmament, division among NATO countries and problems in creation of the Afghan National Army. ANA has about 40,000 troops in 2007. The target is 70,000 troops which means the need for Western forces to stay in Afghanistan till the aim is reached.
    • Lack of co-ordination between US, NATO, and NATO and Kabul. EU is divided too.
    • Afghanistan needed peace-building after overthrow of Taliban.
    • Elections cannot be an exit strategy for the US, rather US must increase military and economic aid to the Karzai government and strengthen its position.
    • Karzai has to overcome tribal divisions among Cabinet colleagues.
    • Taliban is not a mass movement. Afghans do not want to be ruled by them.
    • Extremists in position to obstruct every reconstruction strategy. Need for hearts and minds approach evident here.

    Rasul Bakhsh Rais: The Future of Afghanistan: A Perspective from Pakistan

    • Necessary to contextualise ongoing nation-building in Afghanistan within its history and geography.
    • Afghanistan’s progress towards establishing a modern state started late with a meagre institutional endowment and a ‘rentier’ mindset.
    • According to Prof. Barnett Rubin, the reason behind Afghanistan’s institutional deficit is the habit of ruling elites to look for outside support in carrying out primary functions of the state, even as they avoided difficult decisions.
    • The ‘frontier’ character of the state placed limits on what Afghan nation builders aspired and narrowed the scope of what could realistically be achieved in the constraining environment.
    • Afghanistan failed to sustain itself and grow out of dependence.
    • In the decade after World War II, particularly 1950s and 60s, there was overdependence on foreign assistance.
    • Greatest casualty of war in Afghanistan was the state – with political and ideological fissures among groups.
    • ‘Frontier’ character of Afghanistan – majority of ethnic groups that make Afghanistan straddle borders into neighbouring states, with Afghanistan retaining only a rump.
    • Afghanistan is on the ethnic frontiers of regional states.
    • Russia and Britain settled the Afghanistan issue by making it a ‘buffer’ that would keep the two at a distance.
    • Successful reassertion of sovereignty by Afghanistan did not end its woes, as it faced domestic problems like dynastic rivalries and ethnic fragmentation.
    • Regional changes, Cold War power structure and competitive globalism of the two superpowers influenced Afghan internal dynamics and shaped its foreign policy, altered the fundamental character of the state and added to its complexity, its relationships with neighbours and great powers.
    • Three alternative futures of Afghanistan can be hypothesised – effective statehood, neutral state and nominal or failed state.
    • Afghanistan is a distinct case of post-conflict reconstruction because of the three cycles of war it experienced over three decades and impact on social relations, ethnicity and traditional institutions.
    • Adequate, sustained and long-term international co-operation required for reconstructing a new Afghanistan with effective statehood.
    • Reconstruction activities by US, EU and the rest of the international community driven by self-interest not benevolence.
    • Economic revival is significant to peace and stability, thus there is a need for rebuilding roads, power generation and agricultural infrastructure.
    • Ethnic fragmentation, drug economy and insurgency are major problems in Afghanistan.
    • Afghanistan has been a buffer among contesting empires and venue of separation and accommodation.
    • Its gradual transformation from buffer state to strategic base of a superpower has been tragic.
    • Coalition forces differ on reconstruction priorities, use of force and other vital issues.
    • Real challenge is the growing power of the Taliban.
    • Afghanistan has lapsed back into a criminal economy.
    • Considering history, terrain, legacy and nature of the task, Afghanistan is one of the greatest challenges.
    • Failure of nation and state building will imply disaster for international community.
    • Afghanistan can be transformed from a point of regional conflict to a nexus of regional co-operation.
    • Major achievements so far have been the Constitution, Presidential and provincial elections.

    Shanthie Mariet D’Souza : What Ails the Afghan Long Term Stabilization Effort?

    • Record violence in Afghanistan in 2007 has also seen insurgency spreading its tentacles in large parts of the country.
    • A secret White House report leaked to the Washington Post in November 2007 concluded that the 2007 war effort in Afghanistan had not met the strategic goals set by US military.
    • US policy of keeping a light security footprint along with reluctance to deploy the International Security Assistance Force outside Kabul curbed the relevance of the force.
    • Since 2002, Taliban tactics and attacks have been gaining strength and lethality.
    • Lack of understanding of geographical and cultural terrain among international forces works to the advantage of insurgents.
    • NATO’s effectiveness in counterinsurgency operations afflicted by lack of resources and reluctance of some members to provide troops, restrictions imposed by NATO allies on location of units and participation in combat operations as well as the problem of unity of command and conflicting national agendas.
    • Widespread drug trade is a major revenue source for Afghanistan.
    • Variations in the approach of the allies to counter narcotics.
    • Economic hardships and discontent with government and foreign forces add to support base of the insurgents.
    • International contradictions in Afghanistan have become entangled with external power agenda.
    • Pakistan has not been effective in curbing the spread of Taliban led insurgency. Insurgents have used Pakistan as a base of operations.
    • Significant portion of Taliban leadership based in Pakistan.
    • Pakistan-Afghanistan border tribal region is a refuge for insurgent groups as well as for smugglers and drug traffickers.
    • US forces ineffective in building up indigenous internal security force in Afghanistan, including Afghan National Army.
    • US has relied on warlords in many cases for intelligence and co-operation in nabbing Taliban and al-Qaeda.
    • Lack of adequate number of troops and resources have led to insecurity.
    • ‘Clear and sweep’ operations by US forces on ground backed by air power has caused civilian casualties and further antagonised the people.
    • Despite promises of economic assistance, Afghanistan not on path of stability. Most aid for Afghanistan goes back to donor countries in the form of contracts and salaries and aid through international donors has been plagued by leakages, corruption and delays.
    • Lack of co-ordination in aid distribution and strategy to quell insurgency.
    • Many actors working in uncoordinated manner impedes counterinsurgency efforts.
    • Need to secure key centres and improve conditions to eliminate support for insurgency
    • ‘Clear, Hold and Build’ Strategy – clear area of enemy, holding the territory, building infrastructure and resources and engaging with local community important.
    • Need to involve Afghan forces in counterinsurgency operation.
    • Need to understand local culture and sensitise forces to local customs.
    • Stable Afghanistan requires long term, integrated political, military and economic strategy.

    Discussant 1: Thomas Marks

    • This theme has surfaced in other sessions also. If terrorism is a regional problem, why does this session speak only of US and NATO.
    • Stability operations are not the same as counterinsurgency operations. Numbers matter in counterinsurgency operations.
    • The other important player apart from the US and NATO is Great Britain. India can also provide some support as a regional player.
    • There is a lack of unified command in Afghanistan.
    • Fighting drug trafficking in a situation of criminal set-up is different from fighting drug-trafficking in a stable environment.
    • The need is to move on from description to prescription. Example: while addressing corruption as an issue, we need to understand how to do it. It is imperative to take issues of policy relevance.

    Discussant 2:Vishal Chandra

    • We need to look at Afghanistan from the historical context. Afghan kings have always ruled from a weak centre while depending on strong provincial heads.
    • Karzai’s government also depends on provincial heads.
    • In Afghanistan, a distinction should be made between nation building and state building. State building is what Afghanistan needs today and nation building goes on for centuries and should be left to the Afghans.
    • The Bonn process and the war on terror need to work hand in hand for success in Afghanistan.
    • We need to understand the tribal spill over across the Durand line. Counterinsurgency will not work without understanding this complex dynamics.
    • Afghanistan is too dynamic to be anyone’s strategic backyard.
    • Asian countries with resources should come forward for rebuilding Afghanistan.
    • India-Afghanistan have had normal state to state relations since the 1950s.
    • If India scales back reconstruction process, what is the guarantee that Taliban and Pakistan will not have problems with the government?

    Q & A
    Comments and Questions

    • Drawing a parallel with South Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s, Ambassador S. K. Bhutani asked about the chances of a successful US exit from Afghanistan.
    • There is a need to include some moderate insurgents in the political process to help Karzai deal with opponents.
    • A super UN envoy can wear the twin military and political hats in Afghanistan.
    • The Tripartite Commission has failed. The time has come for regional intervention from India, Iran, US and Pakistan.
    • Pakistan has been fighting the war on terror prior to 9/11. It is just that Pakistan’s strategy is different from the American strategy.
    • US has been a failure in Afghanistan and Iraq.
    • US cannot fight the war on terror in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s assistance.
    • Pakistan Army is not training and sending insurgents to Afghanistan. They are in fact targets of the insurgents.
    • Iran should be brought into the mainstream debate on Afghanistan’s reconstruction.
    • Pakistan bears the burden of Afghan refugees. Insurgents come from these very refugee camps.
    • A distinction should be made between ordinary Taliban and militant Taliban.
    • There is no proper representation of Pashtuns in the Afghan government.
    • US does not seem to have an exit strategy in Afghanistan.
    • US has low level of investment in Afghanistan in spite of the fact that it is a strategically important area.
    • Indian government is supporting the Karzai government while other governments are supporting the insurgents. Collective regional effort is needed to solve this problem.
    • How is governance going to be achieved in Afghanistan?
    • Do Americans have an exit route and how early can they move out?
    • NATO armed forces have no central command.
    • Only 4 per cent of the foreign assistance provided to Afghanistan is used by the Karzai government.
    • We can not have a solution to the Afghan problem without the active participation of Russia and Iran.
    • Afghanistan cannot depend on foreign assistance too much. It requires an army immediately.
    • Positive things are happening in Afghanistan like education of children, including girls, increasing access to health facilities, etc.
    • Need to understand that US has become unpopular in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, therefore regional solution is important. US can provide financial assistance.
    • Why should Afghanistan be neutral?
    • The aim of NATO is not to win the insurgency.
    • India has historical linkages with Afghanistan, so there is no need to question India’s presence.

    Responses

    Ali A. Jalali:

    • Lots of misperception and myths about Afghanistan.
    • No periphery of the centre has ever defied the state.
    • Afghanistan was a nation-state much before other nation-states came into the picture.
    • Afghanistan forced to become a buffer state by two great rivals and then it had to fight them both. It was destroyed in the process. At this time friends should have helped, but they exploited the situation.
    • Afghanistan problem cannot be compared with the Balkans. The ethnic difference in Afghanistan is due to foreigners.
    • Pashtun in Afghanistan different from those in Pakistan.
    • Karzai could not select his own Cabinet. It was selected for him.
    • Problem in Afghanistan is not about nationhood. Afghans concerned that foreign forces will leave before situation is stabilised.
    • Afghanistan has been a graveyard of imported ideology.
    • Afghans do not want to be taught how to govern themselves. They want to live in peace.
    • Taliban is most unpopular now.
    • Different countries are negotiating with different sections in Afghanistan. There is a need for co-ordination in this regard.
    • Winning hearts and minds is needed for good governance. The capacity of institutions in Afghanistan also needs to be enhanced.
    • Government in Afghanistan needs political legitimacy.
    • Rule of law is the first priority in a post-conflict situation.
    • Regional players look at Afghan problem through the prism of their own problems.
    • Iran has been very helpful in Afghanistan.

    Christine Fair

    • Pakistan is an ally of the US. It gave absolute access to its territory during the war on terror.
    • Afghanistan needs a political, not military, solution.
    • US and Pakistan have different strategies in Afghanistan.
    • Taliban had become the blue-eyed boy of ISI.
    • US-India relations flowered because they were institutionalised.

    Anita Inder Singh

    • Sceptical of regional moves to solve problems in Afghanistan because all are rivals in Asia.
    • US should revise reliance on Pakistan since militants are trained in Pakistan and sent across the border. Pakistan is playing a double game with US. But it may not find it easy to drop Pakistan as an ally. At the same time, it cannot win the war in Afghanistan with Pakistan as an ally.
    • Warlords in Afghanistan still behave like warlords.

    Seth Jones

    • Lot of mudslinging happening in the last few years in regional approach.
    • Confusion over alliances in region to tackle the issue.
    • It was Mujahidden who destroyed Kabul and not the Soviet Union.
    • ISI supported Karzai as the next Prime Minister.
    • Most countries in the region have their own interests in Afghanistan. 2009 elections will be a test of support from all parties concerned.
    • Afghanistan is a regional problem now.
    • Why is there no discussion over an exit strategy in the US?

    Rasul Baksh Rais

    • If you neutralise Afghanistan the whole region gets neutralised.
    • Afghanistan will not be a lesser sovereign state if it is a neutral state.
    • Assumption that the Taliban affecting our lives is trained by Pakistani forces is not true.
    • We entered Afghanistan when the gun was on our heads.

    Shantie Mariet D’Souza

    • No consensus on how to tackle the problem in Afghanistan.
    • Idea should be to unify and integrate efforts and bolster the legitimacy of the Afghan government.
    • Indian and regional participation crucial in achieving this end.

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