Towards a post-ISAF era, a new Partnership Policy for NATO with Kabul ?
A long-lasting NATO partnership with Afghanistan
According to NATO publications, the ISAF withdrawal from Afghanistan is being achieved in an organized fashion following the notion of developing a “lasting partnership.” The Lisbon summit, held in November 2010, was aimed at redefining the main goals and initiatives of NATO to include new organizational risks to be taken into consideration. Since 2010, NATO has placed emphasis on external operations in the different main threat sectors, which it considers to be combating terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cyber warfare, and energy sources. With these missions in mind NATO wishes to carry on its involvement in Afghanistan, where it could foster ”enhanced cooperation” in the fields of national security and defense reform. The ISAF will progressively let the Afghan National Army (ANA), created in 2002, to shoulder more responsibility. NATO remains optimistic about the effectiveness of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A), a training mission for the Afghan National Security Forces and the people in charge of the different districts. This long-term partnership is a necessary element for NATO, which continues to believe that its commitment in Afghanistan must persist despite the troop withdrawals (as the Allies approved at the NATO Chicago Summit in May 2012). However, NATO still has a need to explain in detail its “post-2014 mission plan”. In fact NATO is putting in place a new mission, which is not well defined; all the while the troop withdrawal is making steady headway. At this moment the “long-lasting partnership” concept appears quite fuzzy in reality and hidden behind the objectives assigned by the NATO technocrats. The most prominent question is does this partnership consist of a military presence, financial assistance, or remote assistance through already existing peace-building organizations in place in Afghanistan, such as the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization or the Cooperation for Peace and Unity? It is also important to note the uncertainty of the troop levels maintained on the ground after 2014. The options put forward by General John R. Allen, the top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, consisted of a range from 6,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops. This bracket was subsequently revised downwards by the White House requiring a contingent between 3,000 and 9,000 troops. The expectations are that the troop phase out will speed up since January 8, 2013 as a White House spokesperson announced the withdraw of half of the remaining 66,000 troops by April 2014, the same month that the Afghan presidential elections will take place. Even though decisions have been made there remains ambiguity concerning the incremental withdrawal and the number of troops needed to remain on the ground after completion. Indeed, While the latest version of the ISAF withdraw plan was made public in January, 2013 doubt remains on how clearly the program was defined and if it is not being driven by the war debt incurred by the United States. In this particular case, such a retreat could prevent a safe democratic transition from happening in Afghanistan. For NATO this would be the first failure for the potential “long-lasting partnership.” The troop withdraws spurred disbelief among the Afghan government, which is supported by the ISAF. A spokesperson to the Afghan President, Hamid Karzaï, asked NATO to explain and justify its twelve-year intervention in the Islamic Republic. If they did not really want to make certain the transition process is completed, what did the NATO members expect to accomplish with their military presence in Afghanistan? Now, they seem to leave quite precipitately rather than completing their objectives.
Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan regard the U.S. presence in the region more as a power struggle than a genuine willingness to help the Afghan people. This explains why these countries, during the Istanbul Conference on Afghanistan in November, 2011, opposed implicitly the continued military presence of NATO forces in Afghanistan. As previously mentioned, these positions can be associated with their respective economic, energy and cultural interests in the region following the withdraw of NATO These positions emphasize the need for collective bargaining and concessions in the post-2014 era, between the United States and the regional powers. These powers also joined hands to establish a Central Asian bloc since the 1990’s. As a result there are numerous regional organizations, such as the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) and the CSTO, need to take part in the project helping the Afghan transition after ISAF departure. The SCO membership is comprised of Russia, China and the “Stans” (former USSR satellite states in Central Asia) and four observer states, Iran, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. The organization works toward the goal of regional stabilization, yet is marked by internal disagreements when trying to adopt a unilateral position regarding the NATO troop withdrawals. This strife comes from existing ties that Pakistan and the other Stans have with the United States leading to disagreements with the Chinese and Russian policies. The SCO aspires to appear on the international stage as a legitimate player and not as a simple anti-NATO organization. This lobby is also represented under the auspices of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), which is already planning for the end of the ISAF presence, demonstrated by the agreements that were signed in December 2012 governing the management of different situations such as “external border” control. As previously discussed this provides a clear example that the Afghan transition process is at the core of the preoccupations for economic, energy and security development in the region. The CIS, just as the CSO, points out a strong Russian influence in the balance of the Central Asia. The CIS voted for the creation of common monetary area between members and look to the future to fulfill the founding basis of the Minsk Agreement to establish a single control of nuclear weapons in the region and to organize the military forces under a centralized command.) The position of Russia should be at the heart of NATO’s work on how to structure the “lasting partnership.” Reference to this can be found in the most recent NATO Report on Afghanistan, alluding to collaboration with its partners their neighboring countries. The withdraw of troops have ratcheted up the need of NATO to work in close co-operation with these international partners to ensure that it reaches the goals targeted by the international community. In Afghanistan, the role of Russia would be thus to maintain the Afghan helicopter fleet and to ensure the training of Afghan army helicopter maintenance staff. The Russian presence in Central Asia seems to be recognized internationally since NATO declared: “The NATO-Russia transit arrangements proved critical to the development of the northern supply route to Afghanistan.” The security issue is of the uppermost importance in the CSTO’s mind (Collective Security Treaty Organization) since the Central Asian players have taken the position that their borders should never be in danger of being threatened as a result of withdrawing the NATO troops. Thus, CSTO members already envisioned sending representatives to Afghanistan to ensure that the peace process prevails in the post-2014 period. The projected plans highlight the need for synergy between the regional and international organizations. This process is already moving in the right direction, as the Eurasian organizations are not ambivalent towards compromise. For instance, the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) is a member state of the United Nations General Assembly and it is tied with both the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Of note both the OSCE and the CSTO already worked together on a counter-narcotics mission from 2011 to 2012 and could see similar work after 2014. Even if each regional or international organization have their own specific plans for the future of Afghanistan and surrounding regions after 2014, they share a common theme: providing safety in Afghanistan, so as to secure Central Asia and to shield the member countries of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe).
Delegating some parts of the projected regional partners is seen as a suitable solution, rather than applying the hypothetical long-lasting partnership to Afghanistan. We should ensure that lessons learned are given due regard so as to avoid future failures such as those seen in Afghanistan, exemplifying the need for the regional partners like the ECO or the CSTO to be better connected with the European and other international organizations. This collaboration should be aimed to safeguard economic and political stability in Central Asia following the outcome of Afghanistan and at the same time ensure that the country does not give up to the regional powers and their associated greed.
The ISAF exit strategy could lead to major hazards.
The future of Afghanistan is still uncertain, as we should take into account that the country is classified as a “failed State” by both “The Brookings Institution” and “Foreign Policy” indexes, despite the ISAF intervention. Afghanistan is ranked as the 6th most failed state in the world. A “failed state” as defined by French International Relations specialist Serge Sur is “a state apparatus that can no longer fulfill its basic functions, especially to provide physical security to its residents.”
Afghanistan, like most failed states, is no longer a state grounded on the rule of Law and has lost the majority of its legitimate power. According to Max Weber, the State can be defined by the double monopoly of physical violence and legitimate symbolism, both functions the existing Afghan government cannot perform. Therefore, this state no longer retains the right to resort to violence since the insurgents reappeared with the announcement of NATO troop withdrawal. There is legitimate fear of a new civil war between the new Afghan government and the Taliban, after 2014. According to the Afghan constitution President Hamid Karzaï will not be able to run again for office in April 2014 because he has served two consecutive terms. NATO should take into account the political vulnerability of the state, not based on the willingness of its people, but rather the loose creation of a country that is in many realities buffer. As initially planned during training missions, internal disputes between the various ethnic groups, particularly concerning Pashtunistan, could prevent the State from guaranteeing its people safety. As a result in the current environment a truly structured and non-corrupt public service is noticeably absent in Afghanistan. The concentrated male power only continues to weaken the already weak state. In addition, with the lack of readiness of the state one can question the readiness of the Afghan forces to take on the responsibility to combat the widespread corruption, organized crime and overall prevailing insecurity. According to the recent Pentagon Report on Afghanistan (Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan) dating from December 2012, corruption is predicted to have the greatest overall impact on the government, yet all the while Pakistan still appears to support the insurgency against NATO and only one of the ANSF’s twenty-three brigades is in an operational readiness condition to apply the skills taught during the different training missions. With such assertions, it seems likely that the Taliban will continue to seek refuge in Pakistan, close to the Afghan border (like Haqqani Network, Tehrik-i-Taliban or Al-Qaeda) in the forms of grouping of combatants and training camps. The CIS also considers that Afghanistan will become “the gathering point of the terrorist activities in Central Asia.”
This region is overall characterized by an informal economy much due to narcotics trafficking. Little question remains that if the country is abandoned to its own fate; it will fulfill the role of a global hub for the drug trade. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has been driven by this shadow economy since the 1990’s (at the end of this decade, opium poppy cultivation already represented 10% of the Afghan gross domestic product). The drug-trafficking clearly influenced the allocation of top posts in the Afghan government. Ultimately the most serious hazard for the state itself would be to become a so-called narco-state, which is to mean a state in which the drug money is used to fund public policies.
While the fate of Afghanistan is subject to numerous hazards in the post-ISAF era, each player intends to develop its own policy to prevent such huge drifts or political interference with Afghan sovereignty. Unfortunately the Afghan people’s voice has no place in the debate despite the twelve-year war to “stabilize” their country. However, hope exist that solutions can be found by the Afghans themselves, who will be responsible for the proficient use of the financial aid using the training they have been supplied with. Researchers advocate the necessity to consult the Afghan people with regards to what they expect to improve after 2014. Therefore, utopias and incoherence could re-emerge, exacerbating daily-life difficulties, but the Western powers must not impose what they believe is the better path for a country to which they are not a part of.