Globalist Analysis

Afghanistan for Afghans: The West's End Game Is Promoting Governance

What is the United States hoping will be the end result of its mission in Afghanistan?

Takeaways


  • Singular emphasis on either the military or civilian operations alone will fail. Success in Afghanistan demands more than a military defeat of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
  • The lack of a NATO two-track approach to security and development is the root of the conflict between American and European policies.
  • Empowering reliable tribal and ethnic leaders, rather than depending exclusively on the national leader, could create multiple partners for NATO.
  • While seeking guidance is good, power-sharing that leads to a stable, legitimate government would be better.
  • Who governs Afghanistan matters to the international community.

President Karzai’s plan to convene a peace jirga — a grand council with hundreds of representatives from the parliament, the regions and from among religious leaders — is an important milestone in bringing inclusive governance to Kabul and Afghanistan's regions and strengthening governance.

However, while seeking guidance from regional, tribal and religious leaders is good, power-sharing that leads to a stable, legitimate government would be better.

Clearly an approach, different from the current centralized governance, is sorely needed. Afghanistan is made primarily of ethnic groups, warlords and tribal leaders who reject the exclusive control of the central government in Kabul and want to govern themselves.

Without legitimacy based on power sharing with the regions, the Kabul government will fall back on coercion used against regional powers and may even turn to the Taliban for cooperation.

Once the NATO forces have departed, Afghanistan will have its own NATO-trained, 100,000-strong army. Who governs Afghanistan matters to the international community.

In December 2009, President Barack Obama revised the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan. He announced a dramatic increase in the number of American soldiers for the NATO International Security Forces (ISAF).

Concurrent with the increase in troops in Afghanistan, he also announced the planned withdrawal of armed forces beginning in 2011. In the intervening 18-month period between the influx and drawdown, Afghanistan must begin governing itself effectively for this strategy to work.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has offered his views on how to end the war in Afghanistan, drawing on the British experience of the 19th century and the Russian experience in the 20th century. He also argued for a more inclusive internal political arrangement and a commitment from Afghanistan's neighbors to respect its sovereign integrity. Those steps are needed.

The current Afghan constitution does not command genuinely deep popular support that could allow NATO to transfer power to Afghans to ensure their own security at this time.

Empowering reliable tribal and ethnic leaders to govern, rather than depending exclusively on the national leader of this weak nation state, could create multiple partners for NATO, buy-in with local leaders on governance and strengthened structure against corruption.

Respecting semi-autonomous regions, while accepting central government responsibilities, can promote effective governance and allow NATO to use its rapid-reaction forces to provide security from the Taliban. It could also help empower local leaders, who would have a stake in the Kabul government.

The viability of the security and development aid that NATO is providing in Afghanistan depends on stable Afghan governance prior to NATO's departure.

Currently, the lack of a NATO two-track approach to security and development is the root of the conflict between American and European policies. NATO will succeed if its local governance goal grows from counterinsurgency and civil-military development operations.

U.S. forces in NATO are deeply engaged in Afghanistan with military counterinsurgency operations, which are essential to provide security from the Taliban threat and to defeat al-Qaeda.

The American emphasis on use of military force is not matched by comparable civilian operations. On the other hand, the Europeans emphasize civilian action. The German mandate for the Bundeswehr (German defense forces) in Afghanistan calls for civilian capacity-building programs.

A joint approach to military and civilian operations is needed to overcome this obstacle to joint operations in Afghanistan and allow ISAF to turn over its responsibilities to the Afghans.

Singular emphasis on either the military or civilian operations alone will fail. When NATO leaves, Afghans must be able to govern themselves and provide for their own security.

That is the challenge, and neither development aid, nor security without good governance, is sustainable. Success in Afghanistan demands more than a military defeat of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Germany, the third-largest military force contributor to the Afghanistan mission, is important for NATO's success. While the United States debates whether, and if so, how, the U.S. military should conduct civilian operations, Germany has garnered extensive experience in stability and reconstruction. NATO could also focus on civil-military complex operations that provide a basis for NATO strategy to succeed in Afghanistan.

Despite Bundeswehr deployments to areas of conflict over the past 15 years, Germany's limits on its rules of engagement in Afghanistan, primarily to civilian operations, have brought criticism about its willingness to accept responsibility.

Bernard Schlink, author of "Guilt about the Past," wonders if too much emphasis on accepting responsibility for the catastrophe of the Second World War and the Holocaust has led to efforts to excuse the Germans from taking responsibility for the future.

The Bundestag (German parliament), however, has voted consistently to send the Bundeswehr into conflicts, noting the principle of solidarity with NATO strategy and German interest in stability and reconstruction.

A Bundestag debate over a NATO two-track counterinsurgency-civil/military operations policy, one that would have U.S. and allied forces jointly plan, train and execute these operations, would likely result in continued support for the current deployment and allow new rules of engagement that are required for such joint military operations.

NATO's goal to turn over these missions to the Afghans needs successful civil-military operations to accompany the counterinsurgency fight.

If Germany can explain to its public the need to use force in Afghanistan, as a last resort, to defend German interests, while continuing to provide development assistance, such a common policy is possible.

At the same time, the United States needs to confront its public with the need to fund civilian agencies to build American capacity for civilian projects. Re-forging common, two-track civil-military NATO policies can lead to a security strategy sustained by the both publics.

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About J.D. Bindenagel

J.D. Bindenagel is a former U.S. Ambassador and currently the Henry Kissinger Professor for Governance and International Security, University of Bonn. [Germany]

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