Afghanistan: Europe’s Forgotten War

New ECFR report, to be published on Monday 21 January, criticises European efforts in Afghanistan and calls for a “grand bargain” between the United States and the EU to avert failure

The reconstruction of Afghanistan now hangs by a thin thread. The power of Hamid Karzai’s government extends only weakly beyond the outskirts of Kabul. Large areas of the country are still ruled by warlords.  Reconstruction and delivery of basic services has been uneven

Afghanistan can now be divided into three parts: the more stable north, where a cautious ISAF and powerful Northern Alliance warlords have developed a modus vivendi; the capital Kabul – complete with London-level rents, French restaurants, and bustling night-clubs for diplomats, but pot-holed, litter-filled streets for its denizens – where diplomats and Afghan officials are building the state; and thirdly, the insurgency-racked, and poppy-covered south and east where the U.S, UK, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands are battling a resurgent Taliban

Rule of law remains weak and the entire security sector is fiscally unsustainable. Possibly most dangerous for the country’s long-term stability, Afghanistan has become a narco-state with the opium industry competing in volume with official GDP and eating away at the fabric of its institutions. 

Undermining efforts to build a stable country is a resurgent Taliban backed by Al Qaeda, which together are mounting an increasingly virulent insurgency, especially in the east and south near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, with increasing support from Iran, links to the Iraqi insurgency and a reservoir of support from disaffected Pasthuns.

In spite of efforts to shore up the international effort, principally through the “Afghanistan Compact” agreed in 2006 – a five year commitment by the international community and the Afghanistan government to achieve a number of targets – problems remain. EU countries are treating the common reconstruction effort like a pot-luck dinner where every guest is free to bring his own dish. The US, on the other hand, seem wedded to a military-led strategy.

Yet even against these realities, there has been good reason to believe that the international intervention to stabilise Afghanistan can succeed.  The majority of Afghans genuinely welcomed Western intervention in the hope that it would put an end to decades of war and help Afghanistan back onto its feet economically.  There has also been a real commitment by the state to carry out the necessary governance reforms and to engage in a systematic development agenda.

Ahead of the appointment of a new UN chief for Afghanistan, in a new report – Afghanistan: Europe’s Forgotten War – to be published on Monday, we call on the European Union and the United States to strike a ‘grand bargain’, and overhaul their Afghanistan strategy to avoid failure.

To find out in detail what such a ‘grand bargain’ would entail, and to participate in the debate, come back on Monday.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


ECFR Alumni · Former Senior Policy Fellow

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