This piece was originally published in European Voice on 3 September 2009.
The EU should commit itself to a ‘civilian surge’, but with
Afghan rather than European civilians.
When EU foreign ministers meet in Stockholm
this week, they are likely to focus on how to deal with the immediate fall-out
from the contested result of the presidential election in Afghanistan.
But the real question is what strategy the EU should adopt in the light of
the US troops surge, an insurgency that shows no signs of abating and the
election of a president who, regardless of his identity, will be discredited by
the intimidation and fraud in the election and by the low turn-out. Instead of
focusing on the new Afghan leader or following on the heels of US strategy,
the EU should do what it does best – namely, help build up local institutions.
A map of where the Afghan government’s writ runs, with lighter grey
indicating areas under its control, would show that large, contiguous areas of
dark grey dominate. That is especially true in the south of the country, but
darker blotches would now also be visible in the north. The result was a low
turn-out even in areas close to Kabul
and with a reinforced security presence.
A lack of security and control is just part of the problem. An equally
important element is the inability of national and provincial governments to
provide services consistently in the country’s many outlying areas. This is
where the EU should focus its work in the future.
There has been much talk of a European ‘civilian surge’ to complement the
deployment of an additional 21,000 US troops. But what the Afghan government
really needs is to be able to surge itself, from Kabul into the provinces and then from
provincial capitals into the districts.
This is crucial for two reasons. One is to take back space occupied by the
Taliban among rural Pushtun communities in southern Afghanistan. The second is to
establish an Afghan civilian and military presence that will develop from the
bottom up and allow an incremental phase-out of combat operations by
To do that, the EU should support the creation of a Civil Service Academy in
Kabul, with regional branches in Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif
and Jalalabad. Training government officials at all levels would enable a
‘civilian surge’ to put down roots in local communities and make the surge
sustainable. What Afghanistan
needs is more technocrats, not more guns.
To make sure the best and brightest young Afghans choose an Afghan career
first, the EU, as one of the main inter-national donors, should lean on the
rest of the international community, including non-governmental organisations,
to regulate pay so that they do not drain local talent away from local
But training civil servants will not be enough. There is currently no way to
track the appointment, promotion and (often) removal of local officials, or to
identify clashes of interests and battles for sinecures in opium-rich areas. To
address this, the EU should also sponsor a central register of appointments and
Despite appearances, all is not lost in Afghanistan. But, realistically
speaking, only a few years remain before ordinary Afghans, Europeans and
Americans lose patience with the international mission. To turn things around,
EU foreign ministers need to focus attention on helping Afghans mend the gaping
holes in Afghanistan’s
democratic fabric, holes not easily mended by outsiders.
Fabrice Pothier is director of Carnegie Europe and Daniel Korski is a senior
research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.