Recommendations for the US and NATO Strategic Support in Afghanistan Beyond 2014
For consideration of all partnering nations at the Chicago Summit 2012
This Policy Recommendation (PR) is prepared by Afghan Advocates for Peace and Development (AAPD), an independent global network of young Afghan professionals and intellectuals, not affiliated with any political party, interest group or their representatives. Our common goal is to help Afghanistan establish and maintain peace, security, stability, and development.
This PR is in response to the growing concern among all Afghans, residents and the diasporas, for stability in Afghanistan after 2014. The US and NATO troop withdrawal happens at a time when the region’s security threat is still imminent. The presence of terrorist networks like Al-Qaeda and Haqqani are direct threats to Afghanistan and global security. History has proven that an unstable and a volatile Afghanistan can easily fall into the hands of terrorist insurgents, which could not only shatter the peace in Afghanistan, but also challenges global stability.
The Afghan and the US governments deserve congratulations for signing the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA). This is a critical step for both countries in “preserving the achievements of the past ten years,” and establishing commitment for “strategic corporation in areas of mutual interest.”
However, there is still a growing uncertainty about the survival of a democratic and stable Afghanistan beyond 2014. Specifically, what a) if Afghanistan slides back into a civil war or b) if the Taliban or another similar extremist government returns to power, as a result of a peace deal and a power sharing government structure with the Taliban? Afghans should not re-live the 1990s’ bloodbath of rival factions or the brutality of an extremist government. Afghanistan must not become once again a safe haven for Al-Qaeda recruits and veteran terrorist insurgents, a sanctuary for criminals and drug warlords, and a shelter for perpetrators of another possible September 11 attack.
To prevent the above mentioned threats and to facilitate a successful security transition from the US and the NATO forces to Afghan National Security Force (ANSF), AAPD recommends the following:
1. The US and NATO must ensure that the values of a democratic Afghan government are sustained, and that women and civil rights are not compromised with negotiations for a peace settlement with the Taliban.
Negotiations for a peace settlement with the Taliban will require the establishment of a power sharing government. This will create a space for extremists to gain or even siege power in Afghanistan, and undermine the efforts for a sustainable democracy. According to Asia Foundation’s survey in 2011, even with the limited exposure Afghans had to a democratic governance, still 69% of the people expressed their satisfaction with the “way democracy works” in Afghanistan. Participants of this survey also identified “peace as a potential benefit of democracy” not the other way around, and this opinion has been “rising steadily since 2007, reaching its highest recorded level in 2011.”
Supporting a transparent and fair presidential election is needed to maintain the trust people have built in the government, and a delay in the 2014 election will weaken Afghans support for democratic institutions. Reconciliation with the Taliban should never come at the cost of minority and marginalized groups’ rights, specifically women, who have suffered the most throughout the Taliban regime. During the last 10 years, with the help of Afghan government and international community, women have made an extensive progress in protecting their rights. These efforts should be recognized and fully respected. The US and its NATO allies should support an inclusive peace process both at the international and national level. At international level, the US must include the Afghan government in the peace talks with the Taliban; otherwise there will be limited legitimacy in the process. At national level, the Afghan government must wage an inclusive process attaining Afghan people’s trust in the system. Afghans should be assured that their government represents and protects their rights as minority and marginalized groups, including women, in the talks with the Taliban. Women representatives and civil society activists should be well and fairly represented in the High Peace Council and international conferences on Afghanistan.
2. Similar to the US, the NATO member countries need to sign a comprehensive and well defined security/partnership agreement with the Afghan government that will secure NATO’s military and financial commitment beyond 2014.
A long-term and secured NATO commitment beyond 2014 will help peace talks with the Taliban. Recently there has been a halt or residual slow-down in these negotiations. This is not surprising. The recent messages from the US and NATO confirming their troop withdrawal in 2014 helps Taliban to leverage their position and take a step back from negotiations. Regardless how much the international community expresses their interest and commitment after 2014, if there is not an agreement or a signed pledge, there always will be limited trust for such involvement. The agreement must explicitly define the types and amount of funding available, as well as the terms of specific security measures and protection being provided. A symbolic agreement will not stand as a convincing and strong document.
A concise, detailed and lawfully binding covenant is critical to success. Such a secure and well defined commitment by NATO will also help Afghans to put trust in the future and continue to invest economically and politically in their country. According to a recent figure released by the United Nations, there are more than 30,400 Afghans that had applied for asylum in 2011, which is the highest in the last 10 years and four times more than asylum seekers in 2005. Similarly the number of displaced Afghans outside of the country seeking to come back to Afghanistan slowed to 68,000 in 2011, down from 110,000 in 2010 and a dramatic decrease from 1.8 million in 2002. These figures indicate that Afghans are uncertain about the future, and soon they will stop their economic and political investment in Afghanistan—undermining the current development and future growth in the country.
3. NATO and the US should cease arming local militias and instead continue their military and financial support to ANSF—to embolden the formation of a legitimate and formal national security force.
It is an absolute requirement for Afghanistan to have the right number of well equipped, trained, and incentivized ANSF, as a legitimate security apparatus will be able to take the lead beyond 2014. In the absence of a strong highly trained cadre of forces, not only will the survival of the Afghan government be in question, but existing security gains will be also compromised. In conjunction with financial support, training is critical for ANSF. NATO’s Training Mission should be extended, and the National Military Academy of Afghanistan must receive the necessary support in becoming a strong institution for training a military cadre of professionals. The ANSF should have opportunities to attain training outside Afghanistan. Training in India, Turkey and Tajikistan have proven effective in assisting the ANSF with gaining a broader knowledge of tactical security operations. The National
Directorate of Security (NDS) obviously has a major role in the country’s security. They should receive advanced training in collecting and analyzing raw information, which can be converted into intelligence—prevent suicide bomber attacks.
Specifically, the Afghan Police Academy should be provided the necessary resources to recruit and train a robust Afghan National Police (ANP) force. The NATO and the US should cease supporting security initiatives, such as the Community Based Security Solutions (CBSS) police organization or Afghan Local Police (ALP)—arming local militias. People who are illiterate and do not receive any formal military training cannot be expected to deliver loyal support to the Afghan government. The country is still struggling with disarming the earlier local warlords/commanders. Creating another local militia is the replication of previous mistakes. The solution to the ANP’s weakness is not to form local armed militias, but rather to invest in strengthening and improving ANP capacities, as has been done with the Afghan National Army (ANA). ANA is a successful example of a legitimate, strong and loyal national security force. ANA’s effective response to the recent coordinated attacks in Afghanistan proves that professional training and appropriate military investment can lead to a successful outcome.
4. The US and its NATO member countries should specify their financial aid amount pledged for development projects beyond 2014 in Afghanistan.
Often foreign commitment and support has been linked with the amount of funding allocated to a country. A reduction in the troops jointly with a decrease in aid clearly signals the US and NATO’s limited interest and commitment beyond 2014, even if it is not the real intention. To express a stronger commitment there is need to increase the aid. This can be the best alternative understanding as military spending has been always costly for the US and NATO.
The World Bank has projected $7 billions financing gap after 2014 in Afghanistan’s annual budget, which verifies Afghanistan’s economic instability and over 90% dependency on foreign aid. Needless to say that troop withdrawal and a rapid reduction in foreign aid will severely hurt the economy. However, Afghans know foreign aid is not the long-term solution and they realize the urgency to stand on their own feet, but they need help. The Afghan government has projected 2025 to be the year of full economic and financial independency–only if the international community continues its aid package for another decade beyond 2014. Investing in long-term projects and promoting private/commercial sector development are critical approaches in achieving long-lasting economic stability.
5. NATO and the US should continue pressuring Pakistan to suppress the terrorist insurgents in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
There is irrefutable evidence that Pakistan remains a Taliban safe haven, and that the Pakistani Army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are unequivocally supporting the Taliban revival in Afghanistan. Success in transition is impossible without addressing the instability in FATA. This region and its districts have been identified as a secure place for terrorists taking refuge. The US should implement greater measures on its military aid to Pakistan. It has been acknowledged that Pakistan’s unwillingness to curb militant activities on its ground suggests a looming crisis that poses a significant threat to global security. If the world does not address this threat now, it may have to deal with a nuclear-armed jihadist state later, which could be used by terrorists to launch attacks against any foreign country.
NATO and the US must use its diplomatic power to mandate Pakistan’s compliance with specific benchmarks. These benchmarks include but are not limited to an increase in border patrol and intelligence operations within the FATA region, to diminish insurgent infiltration into Afghanistan. Increasing security along the Pakistan and Afghanistan borders, Torkham and Spin Boldak, is essential in preventing terrorist insurgents’ movements. NATO and the US should help ANSF with proper “border control” training, and advanced military equipment to secure these borders.
In summary, the US and NATO should have a strong commitment in supporting democracy and protecting women and civil rights in Afghanistan. Similar to the US, the NATO member countries should enter into a written specified agreement with Afghanistan to secure their support beyond 2014. The US and its NATO allies should stop the formation of local militias and instead continue to support the legitimate national security force. They should increase their efforts in suppressing terrorist insurgency in Pakistan, and make a defined pledge to financial aid beyond 2014.
Declining public support for the Afghanistan war in the US and in Europe is understandable considering the many lives lost and billions of dollars spent. Consequently, there is great concern that a winning end is impossible. There are two choices: 1) abandoning the progress made during the last ten years and surrendering the country to terrorist insurgents and drug lords or 2) building on this progress and prevent a global security threat. We, the AAPD, understand that a continuous commitment to Afghanistan comes with major political, economic, and social costs. However, it is essential to remember that today we live in a globalized world where a security threat in Afghanistan is a global threat. Therefore, it is a joint responsibility of Afghans and the international community to address this challenge collectively.