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Evaluating EU’s role in the Af-Pak Region

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  • August 07, 2009
    Fellows' Seminar
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chair: Shantanu Chowdhury
    Discussants: Gulshan Sachdeva and Peter Garretson

    The paper attempts to analyse the role of European Union in the Afghan-Pak region. Strategy in Af-Pak region has been widely debated since the U.S. President Barack Obama outlined a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan on March 27, 2009. European Union is a significant player in Afghanistan and the major member countries of the EU have been engaged in various programs in Afghanistan relating to security, police training, democratic institution-building, counter-narcotics, judicial reform apart from making their combined military contribution to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). However it is to be highlighted that the numbers do not actually reflect the combat-readiness, interoperability, stating power and the mandate dictated by national parliaments of the contributing member countries of the European Union.

    Mukhopadhyay attempts to curve the role of EU in the Pak-Afghan region as a security actor. Initially the paper deals with the present European perception of the Pakistan-Afghanistan region and how it evolved since 2001. Instances from the major EU member countries e.g. Germany and the UK have been taken into account. According to the author, it is a widespread belief in Europe that the EU always plays a secondary role to the US in conflict zones and in particular the success of their forces in Afghanistan would solely depend on the success of the ISAF. The EU aspiration is however apparent when the ‘low-profile’ Union wants to come out from the shadow of the US and attempts to project itself as a ‘credible’ global actor. The author points out that there has been a silent surge of European forces in Afghanistan while the total number of European troops in November 2006 was approximately 17, 400, it reached almost 27, 400 in March 2009. As in July 2009 the number of European forces is approximately 29,100 which is almost 45 per cent of the 64,500-strong ISAF. On the eve of the Afghan presidential election on August 20th, it is likely that the additional European forces would also be provided to conduct the elections.

    The author discusses the outcome of the recently held first EU-Pakistan summit on June 17, 2009 in Brussels. He emphasizes that by taking the decision to hold the summit with Pakistan, the EU has accepted the obvious that Pakistan is no more the solution as a frontline state against terror but on the contrary the growing threat emanating from there is severally threatening the European security. The author suggests that the summit should be seen as a collective recognition by the European states that Pakistan is crucial to tackle the quick phenomenon of Islamic radicalisation process in the EU as whole.

    Mukhopadhyay critically analyses the role of European media in augmenting the general awareness but also exaggeration of threats linked with Pakistan. A recent British instance in this regard has been analysed where a Sunday Times (July 4, 2009) news report warned of an imminent overthrow of Pakistani state by British militants specifically the radical Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT) by adopting means such as infiltrating the Pakistani Army as well as to persuade students in Pakistani institutes of higher education to establish a Caliphate based on stringent Sharia Laws. The author suggests that the British media should be more circumspect to publish such sensational reports which rather help the Radical Islamists of different hue to get more media coverage for which they always attempt hard.

    In the subsequent section, Mukhopadhyay analyses the divergence of approach which is observable between the US and its European counterparts particularly the United Kingdom. The US approach is an archetypal pillar-based counter-terrorism concept where President Obama underlines that the American aim stands on three Ds, Disrupt, Dismantle and Defeat Al Qaeda in the region in order to ‘prevent’ their return. According to the author, it is apparent from the text where the US objective is to provide and preserve ‘international security, on the other hand the European objective is more to secure their homeland as it is apparent in European policy documents. As a matter of fact, following the US instance the UK also came out with its own policy document titled as “UK policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan: The way forward”. The author points out that divergence in approach may also be identified in a post-9/11 scenario where most of the European countries have honed their counter-terrorism skills, revamped their own security apparatus, put in place a stricter visa regime and finally enhanced pan-European and even international intelligence cooperation, rather than solely depending on combating Taliban forces in Afghanistan for which their forces are neither equipped nor ready.

    Mukhopadhyay concludes his presentation by pointing out that initially the European forces were sent to Afghanistan mainly as a gesture of solidarity since NATO for the first time had invoked the Article 5 of collective self-defence. It should be noted that both the EU and NATO primarily worked on consensus and member countries were at liberty to undertake individual, bilateral or an exclusive group-based approach. However repeated reminders by the NATO leadership have not been able to increase the European force level required to have a decisive turn to stabilise Afghanistan in a post-Taliban scenario. The European analysts have been emphasising on a coherent EU approach, however still individual and bilateral approaches are continued as rules of the day. According to the author as the developments gets murkier in Afghanistan which is evident in insurgency reaching the Punjabi heartland of Pakistan, terrorist attacks claiming lives of European nationals as well as diplomats and security at European homeland is threatened from the Afghan-Pak region, it is high time to have a careful evaluation of European Union’s approach towards Af-Pak region.

    Points raised during discussions

    • In fact Durand line is the real genesis of Af-Pak. Afghanistan is not prepared to renew it.
    • Because of 9/11, there has been complete paradigm shift in international relations.
    • Security contributions by European Union members are essential. Without it the US forces may be suffering fatigue factor.
    • Pakistan’s role has been very diabolical while dealing with the Taliban. Till 2001 they were openly supporting Taliban. After 9/11, they tactically changed their role. In a statement Special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke said that Pakistan is concerned about eliminating Taliban in Pakistan but not in Afghanistan.
    • It should be understood that United States and NATO forces are fighting a war for us. Taliban is injurious to India.
    • It needs to be analysed what relevance Europeans have for India. Europeans are capable of shaping the forces in Afghanistan. The European number of troops have gone up from 17, 000 to 29,000.
    • Europeans are over represented in many institutions in Afghanistan.
    • It can be observed that in last two years, Europe is now focusing on Pakistan simultaneously with Afghanistan.
    • Discussing about ‘European Union’ is confusing. It is better to discuss ‘Europe’ and its role in the Af-Pak Region.
    • While analyzing the role of EU in the Af-Pak region, it should be analysed that what is the overall utility of this analysis for the Indian policy makers and also what can Indian policy makers do to shape EU’s actions.
    • It should also be analyzed in the paper that what are the population size, GDP and actual size of European forces and how much contributions these EU member countries have made to ISAF.
    • The paper should also discuss why is it important to have an extra- regional actor in the Af-Pak region.
    • European Union supports war but simultaneously they facilitate Islamic organizations as well.
    • The paper appears to be focusing more on Pakistan than Afghanistan.
    • The paper should also highlight how the Af-Pak region is a threat to European multiculturalism.
    • Europe has an important role to play in counter narcotics operations in Afghanistan.
    • Pan-European proposition is problematic in nature.
    • The author should mention the relevance and importance of this subject. For that purpose a backgrounder would be worth incorporating. The focus of this paper needs to be sharper.
    • To deal with the crisis in the Af-Pak region, regional approach would not be proper. Instead collective approach would be helpful.
    • There are roughly 10,000 to 15,000 thousand insurgents fighting in Afghanistan. A RAND study of all the insurgency in last 45 years around the world reveals that every insurgency takes on an average 14-15 years to die. But Afghanistan insurgency may take longer time, about 15-20 years, because of its topography and natural location.
    • In history insurgents have never negotiated. At this time it is not possible to have negotiated settlement because at present, insurgents are having upper hand. It may happen two-three years later but not now. Taliban is loosing the battle but not the war.
    • If European forces withdraw form the region, it will have direct implications for Afghanistan. It will have implications for India as well.
    • India can not intervene in Afghanistan because it will not be acceptable to Pakistan.
    • The main question to be examined is what can lead to strategic success in Afghanistan.
    • United States can not talk to Taliban without the help of India.
    • European counter terrorism structures are very recent. To resolve the Afghanistan problem, support of Pakistan in essential.
    • It is interesting to observe that post Xinxiang riots whether China will start rethinking about its role in Af-Pak region.
    • Iran has a major role to play in stabilizing Afghanistan.

    Prepared by Sanjeev Kumar Shrivastav, Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

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