There are some excellent ideas for expanded European contributions in Afghanistan. In particular, the ideas for European involvement in building or rebuilding national institutions, if implemented, would be excellent efforts. Many European countries have relatively recent experience in the challenges of building or replacing infrastructure and state organs that had been gutted by the effects of war. This institutional knowledge would be very applicable to the efforts of the struggling Afghan government.
Many Afghan governmental institutions have been nonexistent for such a period of time as to have rendered their institutional memories blank or nearly so. Many Afghan ministerial-level leaders and managers have had little or no experience in their roles, and the sense of entitlement to corruption takes hold easily. European involvement in building ethical behaviors in management would be very helpful. Corruption is a major block to effective governance and a key issue upon which Taliban appeal to the populace is based.
While a few trainers from each country would be a contribution, there are major chain-of-command problems as things stand right now. Further complicating these chains would possibly be more counterproductive than productive. If those same trainers were instead focused on spending considerable amounts of time and effort on mentoring Afghan government employees in actual productive activities instead of time-wasting and theft, progress would begin to be felt in the provinces, which is where it counts. Provincial governors and district sub-governors need mentoring as well. These would be excellent roles for Europeans in cooperation with ISAF.
A side effect of such involvement would be the more effective use of the massive amounts of aid being provided, much of which is currently wasted on inefficiency and theft. The average Afghan citizen living in a village has a strong suspicion that government officials are being enriched while his village is left to its own devices in every arena of governance from security to infrastructure.
While the development of governmental organs and the rule of law are key issues, a cornerstone of development is being totally ignored in Afghanistan. The economy is in many ways nonexistent. In shuras held in numerous places at the local level, the most consistent complaint of elders, along with government/police corruption, was unemployment.
Creative solutions for the development of industries, jobs, and the creation of opportunities would be more helpful than a battalion of combat troops. Afghans are among the most entrepreneurial people in the world. If opportunities were developed, it would take little effort to find Afghans willing to work hard to make a go of it. Again, the fairly recent experience of Europeans in economy-building would make truly meaningful contributions to the development of jobs and the Afghan economy, which is being ignored at our own peril.
Efforts on these levels would provide tremendous assistance in meaningful, long-term development in Afghanistan. Many of these efforts would not stretch already committed militaries or conflict with national concerns on use of force and would have effects beyond what could be achieved by relatively small troop increases.
Morgan Sheeran is a veteran of the US Armed Forces with 26 years of service including a tour in Afghanistan as a mentor/trainer; view his blog.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Florian Broschk: Kickstarting a New Debate on Afghanistan
- Abbas Daiyar: Negotiating with Taliban is Admitting Defeat
- Morgan Sheeran: Afghan Surge: More Police Trainers Essential