As the Presidential election and the withdrawal of NATO/ISAF troops are looming, there is revived interest in the post-2014 future of Afghanistan and its surrounding neighbourhood. The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung seized this opportunity to present the outcomes of its ongoing project, “Envisioning Afghanistan post 2014: Perspectives and Strategies for Constructive Conflict Resolution from the Neighbourhood”. The roundtable brought together representatives from the EU, and from the different policy groups (India, Pakistan, Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan) that contributed to the drafting of a joint declaration.
There were no dissident voices amongst participants about the fact that the security of Afghanistan is key to the security of the region, and that it is a matter of concern across the globe. While Afghanistan is geographically at the crossroads of the Middle Eastern, the South Asian and the South East Asian fault lines, the post-9/11 global war on terror came to complement the existing challenging environment. In this perspective, all speakers reasserted their commitment and determination to work together towards securing, stabilising and pacifying Afghanistan and the region after 2014.
A decade of international presence: achievements and challenges
When looking back to Afghanistan in 2001, one cannot put into question the significant gains that were made over the past decade with the international community’s support. However, considering the resources that have been allocated to the country, a lot more could have been achieved. Yet, MEP Thijs Berman sustained, that there is a need to recognise that the international community has not only been a part of the solution but also a part of the problem. The massive amount of resources channeled to the country over the past decade has exceeded by far what the country could ever assimilate. In addition, large-scale military and civilian interventions have deeply destabilised local structures and practices. The by-effects of such campaigns should be recognised by the international community if it is ever to have a trustful and truly constructive relation and partnership with Afghanistan. From the rise of poppy culture to massive corruption, these challenges raise questions about the Afghan state’s capacity and ability to put into place some of the recommendations and schemes proposed for the transformation agenda of the next ten years. Donor and intervening countries were called to bear their share of responsibility that has grown along with their long-standing activities in the country.
Inclusiveness and neutrality
What the joint declaration calls the Decade of Transformation (2015-2025) brings new concepts to the traditional considerations on Afghanistan: inclusiveness and neutrality. Inclusiveness needs to be manifested at two levels: firstly, with relation to the upcoming Presidential elections, and secondly, by engaging actors and stakeholders at international, regional and national levels in Afghanistan’s future. Neutrality, by pursuing an Afghan-specific enduring neutrality model, based on vast national support of the Afghan population and the region, and with credible and reliable military assets. One may call it “armed neutrality” as Ambassador Haron Amin noted. Rooting the argument in the country’s history throughout most of the past century, neutrality is believed to be a very strategic ambition for Afghanistan.
The regional joint declaration identifies confidence-building efforts across the region as a fundamental ingredient for regional peace and stability. If this immediately brings to mind the Afghanistan/Pakistan relation, its scope should be broadened to encompass confidence-building measures between all different countries involved in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, from India and Pakistan to Iran, Turkey, China, the United States and its allies. Indeed, suspicions about each other’s interests and activities in Afghanistan are harboured and undermine the overall coherency of efforts. The joint declaration, therefore, recommends that stakeholders, and in particular the US and NATO, engage into active diplomacy with other actors involved, in order to increase mutual understanding and to coordinate and cooperate in overlapping interest areas (jointly fighting trans-border challenges for instance).
A point raised by several representatives from the region, and by Afghans themselves, relates to “responsible drawdown”. As the security situation and the capacity of the Afghan security forces to resist internal and external challenges remains to be proved, the widely utilised rhetoric on responsibility should be fully operationalised by the US and its NATO Allies throughout 2014. An aspect of this, relates to the main challenge of the “decade of transformation” which will be to move away from military support to non-military support, focusing on nation- and capacity-building. In this process, the focus should simultaneously shift from international assistance to regional one. A vision whereby the UN would help coordinate and support the regionalisation of assistance and conflict-resolution in Afghanistan is envisaged by the different policy groups of participant countries.
Elections are, unsurprisingly, at the core of the post 2014 vision for the country. Awaited at the international and national levels with both hope and expectations, and at the same time, concern and apprehensions, voices are raised to call for “good elections” after the debacle of 2009. Free and fair elections, with an acceptable voter turnout, are already perceived as a victory against the Taliban. In return, the empowerment of a President and a government with political legitimacy both internally and externally will certainly serve to revitalise international commitment to Afghanistan after the “Karzai fatigue”. Although the EU has been calling for democratic and inclusive elections, participants drew attention to the very limited scope of electoral assistance that it has, for the moment, planned to provide. An observation mission just returned from Afghanistan, but there is no certainty that the EU will be sending a monitoring team. And if it is, it is likely to remain confined to Kabul. The need for an anti-fraud plan was emphasised by Ambassador Mahmoud Saikal, who hopes that EU observers and advisers will be made available to monitor elections at all levels, or at least, to receive and document complaints on fraud.
While preparing for security and political transitions, economic transition has been widely overlooked and has remained off the international community’s radar. If figures are encouraging, presenting an average of 9% GDP growth over the past few years, the Afghan policy group considers that such a bubble, relying largely on war economy, is a key challenge for the future of the country. It is estimated that the war economy will go down from $120 billion to $5 billion, while foreign aid will also plummet. A fiscal gap already exists and unemployment reaches 57% of active population; there is a need to increase local productivity and fight corruption. 2005 incentives to launch some projects for regional economic cooperation have stalled. Room needs to be given to some win-win projects that could have impact on the political and security situation of the region. There was agreement on the role that the EU could play in this area; the Union could, indeed, build momentum and support this type of initiatives by supporting the countries’ capacity to develop and integrate regional economic cooperation.
Negotiating the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA)
The finalisation of the BSA with the United States is deemed of outmost importance. According to Ambassador Mahmoud Saikal, President Karzai is acting irresponsibly putting into question the country’s interest and willingness to sign the security agreement. That is, for the simple reason that the parliament, representing the people of Afghanistan, and the loya jirga conveyed in November of last year, support the signature of the BSA.
The peace and reconciliation process is vital for the long-term stability of Afghanistan. However, the way the peace process has been conducted so far has clearly proved to be inadequate. Firstly, not enough has been done to convince the Taliban that they will not achieve their objectives by staying out of the negotiating process. Secondly, the efforts made so far can been qualified as “half-hearted”. Thirdly, the lack of political legitimacy is a considerable weakness of ongoing efforts, and has ultimately had a divisive impact whereby violence has become a common theme. Finally, serious and sincere talks with Pakistan are a necessary building block in any attempt to reach reconciliation, while fundamental issues such as demobilisation, giving up arms, and respect for the Constitution need to be tackled.
Dr Thomas Niklasson (EEAS) concluded by arguing that the ideas of the joint regional declaration should be taken forward. He reasserted the EU’s commitment to its partnership with Afghanistan after 2014, although stressing the need for sufficient political commitment on the Afghan side. As reminded by several participants, the young people of Afghanistan are eager to see the international community leave and are full of energy and willingness to take the future of their country in their hands.
For more information on the event, click here.
The joint declaration can be read here.