Europe’s Afghan Moment

The military surge in Afghanistan will fail unless it comes with a civilian surge. Europe should invest much more effort

This article was published by Progress on 1 April 2009.

The military surge in Afghanistan
will fail unless it comes with a civilian surge as part of a new strategy for
the country. President Barack Obama grasped the nettle last week when he
unveiled a new plan to assert greater control over the conflict. Obama’s “exit
strategy” will see the US
ramp up attacks against the insurgents and launch a “civilian surge”
to strengthen the Afghan state.

Serious consideration should now be paid to the European Union’s response. It
will be seen in Washington
as a litmus test of whether the EU is a serious strategic long-term partner. To
date, the EU’s impact in Afghanistan
has been limited. Indeed, it is doing a lot less in Afghanistan than it could – and a
lot less than the situation merits or requires.

But European governments can-and should-invest much more effort in the region.
The EU may not be able to match the coming US military surge, but it can
provide a complementary civilian boost. In “Shaping Europe’s Afghan Surge”, a
new policy brief by the European Council on Foreign Relations, I lay out the
following six-point plan for Europe’s Afghan

First, safeguard the elections. When Afghanistan votes in presidential
and provincial elections this August, the EU must help to guarantee security at
the polls. To prevent electoral fraud, it should send as many election
observers as possible, led by an experienced and respected European figure. The
EU should also persuade Hamid Karzai to stand aside once his mandate runs out
in May. The best option would be for a non-political figure, like the chief justice,
to act as president during the election to minimize the power of incumbency and
allow for a real contest.

Second, relaunch reconciliation. After the elections, the international
community needs to launch a process of political outreach to insurgents.
Negotiations should aim to wean away from the Taliban those tribal leaders who
have joined the insurgency out of convenience rather than religious fervour.
Constitutional reform could create incentives for insurgents to leave the
battlefield and reap political rewards. As General Wardak, the Afghan defence
minister, told me last week such a process would also have to offer
foot-soldiers the chance of integration into the Afghan army.

Third, improve security by training the army and police. The most efficient and
sustainable way for the EU to contribute to security in Afghanistan is
to step up its efforts in military and police training. The US will now
send an additional 4,000 troops to mentor the Afghan army tasks. European
countries should copy this move, deploying additional troops exclusively for
the mentoring role. Institutionally, European governments should create a
2,000-person military advisory force under NATO auspices that can improve the
quality of the trainers deployed; and recruit another 500 EU mentors to provide
policing advice to the much-neglected Afghan police.

Fourth, change the counter-narcotics policy. The only real solution to Afghanistan’s
drug problem is long-term development. The international community should focus
on prioritising security for local farmers and making alternative crops
economically viable. But there must be no culture of impunity: the EU should
support the creation of a special UN-backed serious-crimes tribunal for the
prosecution of Afghanistan’s
drug lords.

Fifth, target development. Both European governments and the European
commission as a whole must increase and improve their aid efforts in Afghanistan,
and particularly target provinces where security is not yet as bad as in the
insurgency-racked south, but could rapidly deteriorate. The EU should also take
over Kabul’s
reconstruction, helping reconstruct the squalid five-million person capital,
which, contrary to perceived wisdom, has been rather neglected.

Finally, support regional diplomacy. Success in Afghanistan requires engagement in
the region’s wider conflicts. In particular, Europe needs a new strategy for Pakistan. The
EU should consider launching a police reform programme, focusing on the
troubled tribal provinces. The EU should also lobby for a new UN
“assistance envoy”; help Pakistan’s many internally
displaced people; and facilitate a broader set of regional confidence-building

The EU has underinvested in the Afghan mission for years. With the coming US
surge, the Afghan elections looming, and failure in the region a real danger,
it needs to change course. Not only is it in Afghanistan’s
interest; it is also in Europe’s.

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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