NATO Parliamentarians Visit Afghanistan with SACEUR
Twelve members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly from across
Europe and North American visited Afghanistan on 20-22 March.
Traveling with SACEUR General James Jones, the members met with
Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai, numerous government
ministers, and senior representatives from NATO, the EU and the
UN. They also visited the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Herat.
Karzai and others emphasized the remarkable improvements in Afghanistan
thanks to NATO and other members of the international community.
The security situation is immensely better than even a year ago
and the Taliban is best characterized as a spent force of 1000-2000
incapable of mounting coordinated attacks. The disarmament program
is working and the vast majority of heavy weapons are in cantonment.
Many militias are now disbanded and their warlord leaders are
working in the government of Afghanistan as ministers or administrators.
progress, however, raises the profile of other problems that must
be resolved if Afghanistan is to become a self-sufficient functioning
state. Chief among those is the ongoing struggle against opium
poppy production and small illegally armed groups. In addition,
the upcoming 18 September election for the National Assembly will
be a major challenge for the government of Afghanistan and the
international community. An acceptable and credible election will
be a leap forward in solidifying Afghan democracy, but it is critical
to marginalize the influence of the drug barons and remaining
warlords to prevent that election from legitimizing those criminal
elements and creating a national legislature dominated by narcotics
traffickers. In response to a request from president Karzai for
international election observers, NATO Parliamentary Assembly
President Pierre Lellouche committed the NATO Parliamentary Assembly
to sending observers for the 18 September election.
Afghanistan has come a long way in the past three years and NATO
and coalition forces are playing a vital role in providing the
necessary security to enable reconstruction and development. At
the same time, the remaining challenges are vast and will require
a long-term commitment from the international community if Afghanistan
is to continue on its current positive track.
Improvements in Afghanistan
is making vast strides in providing basic security for its population.
According to president Karzai and NATO commanders, the Taliban
has been reduced to a nuisance and is no longer capable of seriously
threatening the stability of the country. That being said, they
also expect some small scale attacks in the future, especially
as we move closer to the 18 September elections.
As the security
situation improves and the active combat phase draws down, increasingly
more of the operation in Afghanistan will come under NATO command.
Operations are currently divided between the 8,500 strong ISAF
force and the 18,000 US-led coalition force known as Operation
Enduring Freedom. Originally ISAF was confined to a role in Kabul
and a few areas in the north, while combat operations and most
of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams fell under the command
of the US-led coalition. NATO recently decided to merge the two
operations in the near future, although no time frame has been
set for this merger and many operational details remain unclear.
ISAF will gradually expand to cover the entire country in four
phases. Phase 1 is complete with NATO in command of operations
in the north, and phase 2 is underway with NATO taking over the
PRTs in Herat and western Afghanistan. In the coming year or so
NATO will take command of operations and PRTs in the southwest
and southeast in the third and fourth phases of the transition.
Demobilization and Reintegration program also appears to be working
well. The NATO Senior Civilian Representative told the delegation
that 96% of all heavy weapons are under central government control
and that 45,000 militia members have been disarmed. At the same
time the Afghan National Army continues to grow rapidly in size
and capability. It currently stands at 22,000 members with approximately
another 4,000 in training. Many of the warlords who commanded
militias are now working within the government of Afghanistan.
Ismail Khan, for example, the former warlord in control of the
Herat region is now the Minister for Water and Energy.
police force is also rapidly expanding according to the Minister
of the Interior. Some 38,000 police are now operating across Afghanistan
and the force will number 50,000 by the end of 2005. In addition,
the border police will be well on the way to their desired end
strength of 12,000 by the end of the year. Corruption in the police
force remains a serious concern, but the ministry of the interior
recently increased pay in the force to most officers to $70 per
month, a considerable salary in a country where the estimated
per capita GDP is at most a few hundred dollars per year.
improvements, however, must be viewed in the context of the remaining
problems. Although the larger militias have disbanded, smaller
units of 20-200 armed individuals are rife across the country.
NATO and Afghan government officials estimate that there are approximately
1800 such groups with a total of 20,000 members. Those illegally
armed groups are a threat to the ongoing progress in Afghanistan
because they are often involved in the narcotics traffic, and
they should be confronted before the National Assembly elections
in order to prevent them from influencing the composition of the
This is a
complex task. Some of those groups are simply bandits or criminal
gangs and can be addressed as such, but many are composed of individuals
who spent much of their adult life fighting against the Soviet
occupation. They may be willing to give up their weapons and rejoin
civil society, but they need incentives and retraining so that
they can become productive members of post-conflict Afghanistan.
A successful policy will likely involve military confrontation
with the particularly dangerous illegally armed groups combined
with retraining and incentive programs to convince others to give
up their weapons and reintegrate into society. Several representatives
from the international community and the Government of Afghanistan
underlined the importance of this and the need to incorporate
the disarmament of illegally armed groups into the existing 5-part
security sector reform project as a sixth pillar. The current
structure features Counter-narcotics (UK) Judicial Reform (Italy)
Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (Japan), Development
of the Afghan National Army (US), and development of the Afghan
National Police (Germany).
continues to be at the center of global heroin production. The
vast majority of heroin consumed in Europe comes from poppies
grown in Afghanistan and poppy production accounts for approximately
50% of the country’s GDP. Both the government of Afghanistan
and the international community are actively combating poppy cultivation
by a variety of means, including interdiction and law enforcement,
eradication, crop substitution and alternative livelihoods, and
an appeal to Islamic values against drug production.
of efforts appears to be having an effect according to president
Karzai and his ministers. They note a marked reduction in poppy
production across the country. In the three provinces that account
for half of Afghanistan’s opium production (Nangahar, Helmand
and Badakhshan) poppy cultivation appears to have declined by
as much as 70 percent. Much of this may be the product of a combination
of factors including a drop in the price of opium caused by the
record poppy crop in 2004 that flooded the market. Another factor
may that Afghan police burned enough poppy fields last year to
have a deterrent effect on potential opium farmers who have concluded
that it is better to grow a less profitable product rather than
risk losing their entire opium crop. But there are other factors
at work that may have a more long-term effect. President Karzai
and other officials have appealed to Afghans’ traditional
values in the hope that this approach will be a more lasting deterrent
to drug production. Local clerics and tribal elders have to a
large extent answered Karzai’s call and are preaching that
opium production is counter to Islamic values. In a traditional
and conservative society such as Afghanistan’s, those statements
from local leaders can carry considerable weight. Predsident Karzai
is hopeful that there will be a 30% reduction in the amount of
poppy cultivated in the country this year followed by smaller
decreases in the coming years. As several officials noted, it
is impossible to simply cut off 50% of the economy and a transition
to legitimate crops will necessarily be gradual.
government officials and international experts emphasized that
the key issue will be the provision of alternative livelihoods
to enable farmers to earn a viable living from legitimate crops.
This involves the provision of seed and fertilizer, agricultural
credits other financial measures. It also involves repairing Afghanistan’s
irrigation and road infrastructure. Decades of war destroyed the
irrigation system and poppy was the only viable crop because it
can thrive in dry environments. Repairing the irrigation system
and the roads so that farmers can get their product to markets
is a critical part of providing alternative livelihoods to poppy
production. Additional attention and financial support of this
program is needed now to ensure that the current reductions in
poppy production continue.
on the success of the presidential election in October, Afghanistan
is preparing to hold elections for the lower house of the National
Assembly on 18 September 2005. This is a massive challenge according
to the UN officials working with the Afghan authorities. Some
5000 to 10,000 candidates are expected to be on the ballot for
the 249 seats in the National Assembly, creating a potentially
huge and confusing ballot. In addition to the challenge of producing
a usable ballot, the logistical and security challenges are also
daunting. The potential for fraud and challenges to the elections
are high as well; Hundreds of thousands of Afghan citizens have
more than one voter registration card and there is no way to prevent
them from voting multiple times other than marking their fingers
with ink. It will also be difficult to keep many unsavory warlords
off of the ballot because they have yet to be successfully prosecuted
for any crime and therefore cannot be disqualified for criminal
the election could be a historic moment for Afghanistan and it
is vitally important that the election be accepted by the Afghan
people and credible to the outside world. But it is important
to break the hold of the most notorious drug lords before the
election. If they are allowed to stand for office and gain a large
number of seats in the parliament, we run the risk of seeing Afghanistan’s
parliament become a creature of criminal elements who will gain
legitimacy through holding elected office.
two areas where the international community can offer important
additional assistance to the election process: funding and observation.
First, there is a critical lack of funds for the election. Although
several countries have already made generous donations totalling
$39 million, an additional $110 million will be needed to conduct
the election. Second, international observers are needed to monitor
the election, report fraud and intimidation, and generally assist
in the conduct of a legitimate election. There was no international
observation mission for the presidential election, but UN officials
are hopeful that other international organizations will step forward
to supply observers for the upcoming election (the UN cannot organize
the observer mission because it is managing the election process).
President Karzai specifically invited NATO parliamentarians to
participate in an observation mission.
to Afghanistan also raised issues that get to the heart of the
Alliance’s future operations and capabilities. Two issues
of particular importance are common funding and the use of national
caveats. Common funding of operations should be seriously considered
by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the North Atlantic Council.
The principle that only countries participating in an operation
pay for the costs is not a viable model for the future. The NATO
Response Force (NRF) will feature elements from various allies
on a rotating basis, but the decision to use the NRF will be taken
by all 26 allies. This would mean that the whole alliance would
take decisions to act in the interest of all of the members, yet
only those currently supplying forces to the NRF would pay. A
common funding of operations could eliminate this problem and
encourage greater participation in the NRF.
also heard from several commanders in the field about the debilitating
effects of national caveats (restrictions placed on a national
contingent participating in a NATO operation). Declared caveats
are often not a problem and commanders on the ground can usually
work with known and reasonable restrictions. The problem lies
in undeclared caveats that a commander does not discover until
he tasks a national contingent and finds that they are unable
to perform the assigned duty. Caveats will not be eliminated,
but they should be declared up front so that commanders on the
ground understand the capabilities of their force and can make
Progress in Afghanistan, but Continuing Challenges
foremost, it is important to recognize the tremendous progress
that Afghanistan has made in the past few years. The security
situation has dramatically improved and this establishes a solid
base from which the country can start the long and difficult task
of national reconstruction. Without discounting that progress,
however, we should not ignore the very serious ongoing challenges.
This report highlights a few of those, in particular narcotics
production, but there are other long-term challenges that must
be overcome if we are to set Afghanistan on the path to stability
and relative prosperity. Afghanistan will need large investments
in infrastructure, the development of civil administration, education,
and health care if it is to become a self-sufficient country.
Our commitment to Afghanistan will have to be long-term and multi-faceted.