March 2012

Paper Series
From Transition to Transformation: Europe’s Afghanistan Decade?
by Javid Ahmad and Louise Langeby

Summary: The Afghanistan war represents NATO’s greatest international test since the Cold War. However, without discrediting the efforts made by the ISAF mission’s EU member states, the EU has, in certain respects, punched below its weight in Afghanistan. European initiatives such as the European Union police mission have proved inadequate. Many in the coalition are hastily preparing their draw-down and withdrawal plans, essentially leaving some non-NATO/non-European nations to carry a greater burden than they had initially anticipated. It is up to the EU to decide what role to play in Afghanistan’s future. That role should focus on Afghanistan’s transformation into a stable and self-sufficient state by helping it develop its economy, improve its police force, ensure long-term security cooperation, and constructively engage the region, with a particular focus on Pakistan.

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The Afghanistan war represents NATO’s greatest international test since the Cold War. Unlike Iraq, the Afghanistan mission has long been portrayed as a truly transatlantic conflict reflecting the alliance’s solidarity. The United States’ invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 received strong backing from Europe, including the invocation of NATO’s Article 5 collective self-defense clause for the first time in the alliance’s history. This act not only reaffirmed the alliance’s commitment to selfdefense, but also reinforced the belief that inaction in Afghanistan could put the West’s security at even greater risk. Over the past decade, members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission — whether NATO allies, additional European countries, or other partners — have made significant contributions to developing and securing Afghanistan. The EU’s contribution in particular has included a long-term commitment of significant numbers of combat troops and trainers, and millions of euros spent in development aid and assistance. However, despite continued political support in many European capitals, the conflict is increasingly being perceived as Europe’s unwanted war.

Without discrediting the efforts made by the ISAF mission’s EU member states, the EU has, in certain respects, punched below its weight in Afghanistan. Some nations continuously seek to avoid higher risk missions or only provide capabilities under the strictest of conditions — not as a matter of ability, but as a matter of national politics. This is true of countries such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Romania who at some stage have either avoided or opted out of combat missions perceived to be too dangerous. Further, European initiatives such as the European Union police mission (EUPOL) have proved inadequate, both because of its three-year limited mandate and its inability to effectively deal with police reform. As several European countries in the 50-nation NATO and nonNATO coalition hastily prepare their drawdown and withdrawal plans, some non-NATO/nonEuropean nations such as Australia, Korea, Jordan, and the UAE are left to carry a greater burden than they had initially anticipated. Similarly, while European governments remain supportive of the Afghan mission as demonstrated through

commitments in Lisbon, London, and Kabul, according to the German Marshall Fund’s annual survey, Transatlantic Trends, the level of European public support for the Afghan war may be waning again as it did between 2005 and 2008.1 In anticipation of NATO’s expected withdrawal by 2014, it is up to the EU to decide what role to play in Afghanistan’s future. That role should focus on Afghanistan’s transformation into a stable and self-sufficient state by helping it develop its economy, improve its police force, ensure long-term security cooperation, and constructively engage the region, with a particular focus on Pakistan. Navigating the Transition: Past Achievements and Future Promises Since 2002, EU member states and the European Commission have together committed over €8 billion in aid to Afghanistan. This funding has, among other things, been allocated to projects focused on reconstruction, police training and the rule of law, counter-narcotics, health, and election monitoring.2 While much of this support has proved valuable, shortcomings are evident, and in several cases, the EU has not lived up to its desired role as an effective provider of stability and development in the region. Regardless, as the Afghan people take on greater responsibility for the future of their country, an increasingly active EU could support their efforts. As an experienced actor in dealing with issues pertaining to democratization, civil society, and institution building, the EU has both the capability and capacity to do so. The EU member states’ willingness to stay committed to Afghanistan, most notably by following through commitments made at last year’s Bonn Conference and supporting bilateral strategic partnership agreements that have followed, suggest that the EU’s past and present investments in both blood and treasure, notwithstanding its many hard-earned achievements, are too costly to abandon. But there are several ways in which the EU could play a more decisive role. Despite EU member states’ divergent opinions and approaches to Afghanistan, there is a general consensus on what needs to be done. This includes increased development assistance, a coordinated effort toward training and equipping the Afghan security forces, especially the police, expanding the
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democratization process from Kabul to remote villages across the country through civic education at the village level, and adopting a more assertive and aggressive approach on regional diplomacy, with a particular focus on Pakistan. While it may be difficult for EU member states to achieve all of these objectives, these efforts could certainly lay the groundwork for a functioning and stable Afghan democracy that is yet to be seen. As the Afghan mission shifts from a predominantly military operation to a primarily political one, so must the EU member states’ roles in the country. Consistent with the transition decade, 2015-2024 should be approached as a “transformational decade” that sets forth the strategic framework for long-term cooperation between Afghanistan and key international partners, including the United States and EU member states. Transformation could see the mission in Afghanistan increasingly focused on developing and strengthening the Afghan government, economy, and civil society, areas in which EU member states have significant expertise and have made noticeable progress over the past decade. With more attention being paid to developing and strengthening Afghanistan’s civilian needs such as the legal and justice system, economy, and the rule of law, the EU has forged a role for itself that goes far beyond the security and militaryfocused mission that dominated attention for so many years. Obstacles to Further Engagement The current EU approach toward Afghanistan, and the region as a whole, is faltering due to a lack of cohesive and comprehensive strategic focus. While the EU is considered an important player in Afghanistan, a lack of coherence among member states and conflicting interests has undermined its role in the country. Whereas certain EU member states view Afghanistan as a top international security priority, others deem it less important. This lack of convergence not only reduces the EU’s effectiveness, but also affects how it is perceived on the ground. EU member states’ general aversion to the use of hard power as a foreign policy tool has also served to limit its ability to become a major player. While a focus on soft power initiatives remains both crucial and beneficial, a broader focus is needed in order to increase EU member states’ ability to influence major developments in the region. Further, as the EU struggles with the euro crisis and subsequent austerity measures and budgetary cuts, it is crucial that member states not sway from the

European Union Council Secretariat Factsheet, EU Engagement in Afghanistan,


path of long-term commitment to Afghanistan. Both Afghanistan and the region as a whole are too strategically important to be downgraded on Europe’s list of priorities. The EU’s most active member states in Afghanistan must push to keep them on top of the agenda. A Way Forward: An Increased Role for the EU? The EU can and should play a far more active and constructive role in at least four realms: economic development, the development of the police force, security cooperation, and engagement with Pakistan. The first area that will certainly require the EU’s longterm commitment is economic development, which is of growing concern as the transition continues. Increased engagement in nurturing the nascent Afghan economy will be particularly important in the near future as the wave of foreign troops dwindles, with a knock-on effect on foreign aid. Hence, increased development assistance by the EU and investment in targeted and marketable areas of the Afghan economy could provide the Afghan government with a level of security and confidence about its economic future, until it can begin to generate its own revenue. European governments may also choose to abandon the commitments made at the Kabul Conference, circumvent the Kabul government, and channel funds to targeted provincial governments capable of delivering to the Afghan people. If employed effectively, this could prove to be a valuable strategy that would not only have an impact on the people at the grass roots level but may also create efficient economic structures on the provincial and regional levels. While development assistance is crucial to Afghanistan’s stability both in the short and long run, the country requires sufficiently trained security forces, especially the police, in order to maintain security after 2014. Although there has been an encouraging trend in the security perception among Afghans in recent years, with growing public support for the Afghan national security forces (ANSF), a lot is left to be desired. Since 2007, the EU has worked to reform the police through the EUPOL mission, consisting of nearly 400 pledged staff responsible for monitoring, mentoring, and advising the Afghan police. The European Community has also contributed to the Law and Order Trust Fund (LOFTA), which funds

the Afghan National Police. However, with the exception of units such as the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) and special response forces, the Afghan national police force remains largely weak and ineffectual. Some of this stems from the West’s inordinate focus on building the Afghan national army. Simultaneously Afghan families often do not encourage their most able sons to join the police force, and only a small number tolerate their female family members joining the forces. The recruitment process is further hampered by corruption and significant leadership and training deficiencies, leading able Afghans with better career options to sidestep joining the police force. Further, prior to 2001, a national civilian police force did not exist in Afghanistan. It was instead structured and organized as a quasi-military force and regarded as a coercive organ of the government. However, the key underlying factor has been the inattention paid by the EU nations in the ISAF mission to properly train, reform, and equip the police force, as well as a flawed strategy employed by the United States until 2009 to “recruit, field, and train” the Afghan police, in that order. Moreover, a significant number of the European police and trainers — although promised — have not yet even been deployed to Afghanistan.

While both European and U.S. forces partner with Afghan units “outside the wire” to build their capacity, the United States still does most of the “inside the wire” training of ANSF forces under the auspices of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan. While European nations have provided some significant commitments, such as the Italian Carabinieri, as there is an increasing shift away from combat missions, there must be a corresponding commitment to provide ANSF trainers. Indeed, the Canadian shift from combat to training in 2011 can be contrasted with the Dutch withdrawal from combat operations that did not come with a corresponding shift to fill training requirements. Thus, there is a need for the EU to expand and improve its contribution to developing the Afghan security forces. One possible area for the EU’s involvement might be the effective use of the strategic partnership agreements — some signed and others still to be negotiated — that will come to play a significant role. The EU member states could choose to utilize these partnership agreements as a central tool with the prime objective of training and improving the capacity and

NATO Training Mission — Afghanistan, Year in Review, November 2009 to November 2010,

4 European Union Council Secretariat Factsheet, EU Engagement in Afghanistan,


delivery of Afghan security personnel and focusing upon the quality of the force, not just the quantity. An effective EU in Afghanistan will also certainly need to increase its engagement with regional players. Pakistan still remains the main regional actor with direct influence over Afghanistan, and containing its spoiler role in the country remains vital to regional stability. Despite Pakistan’s strategic significance and the EU’s desire to see a stable Pakistan, the EU’s engagement with the country has been limited. The EU must begin to engage with Pakistan more assertively, skirting bilateral engagements and adopting a more collective, rigorous, and focused approach toward the country, including promoting regional dialogue. As Pakistan’s largest trading partner, the EU is well placed and fully capable of exerting increased influence with a concerted and unified voice that can drive future EU policy toward Pakistan. Unless the EU starts to engage with Pakistan in a more direct way, any involvement in Afghanistan will be futile. Any other approach will only continue to foster Pakistan’s subversive agenda in Afghanistan and the region. In a similar vein, Iran’s current and future role in Afghanistan is undeniably pivotal as part of the broader strategic equation. Iran is unquestionably working to expand its leverage in Afghanistan and the rising tensions between Iran, Israel, and the United States are making a secure Afghanistan a significant beachhead for those opposing Iran, especially if a military conflict with Iran erupts. In the context of an aggressive Iran with nuclear ambitions to the west, and a restive and adversarial nuclear Pakistan to the south and east, a stable and prosperous Afghanistan must remain a top priority for the EU. Conclusion Afghanistan is clearly a work in progress, and the EU has for the past decade played an active role as a provider of both security and development assistance to the country; however, the real impact of the EU’s engagement is yet to be seen. While it will take years for Afghanistan to fully wean itself from all its dependencies and insufficiencies, the coming “transformation decade” is critical to laying the foundations for a truly sovereign Afghanistan: one with control of the use of force within its borders, an economy that can support the domestic functions of government, and a security force that can defend its borders. Given the EU’s expertise gained from years of active involvement in conflict management, it is well

positioned to play a leading and decisive role in Afghanistan in the next decade and beyond. While certain individual member states have chosen to take a heavier combat role under NATO’s umbrella, the EU has focused on its civilian efforts and soft power to create longer-term structural reforms within Afghanistan. It is these initiatives in the areas of socioeconomic development, security, governance, and the rule of law that must remain long after the last international troops leave Afghanistan. A stable and secure Afghanistan is in Europe’s best interest, and it is time that Europe pursues those interests with renewed commitment, energy, and resources. If these goals are met, the looming “transformation decade” could possibly become Europe’s decade in Afghanistan.

About the Authors
Javid Ahmad is a Program Coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC. He is also a regular contributor to Foreign Policy magazine’s AfPak Channel. Louise Langeby is a Program Associate with the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels. The views reflected here are their own.

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