Ambassador Sedwill has chosen the Atlantic Community for a unique exchange of views in the context of the International Conference on Afghanistan, which will take place in Kabul on July 20, 2010.
Thank you to all of our members who sent in questions and contributed to the open dialogue with the Ambassador. The Editorial Team presented the Ambassador with a wide-ranging set of questions from your submissions, and his responses can be found below.
All members of atlantic-community.org are invited to read the open dialogue, share
their opinions and engage in open debate.
Alexandra Widas, Kabul, Afghanistan:
Recent news out of Afghanistan has highlighted a culture of corruption and waste on the sides of both the Afghan and international communities. So much money has been diverted from its original purposes that a Wall Street Journal article recently reported that approximately $3 billion have been flown out of Kabul. U.S. Representative Nina Lowey has placed a hold on any further aid to Afghanistan until such time as corruption has been curtailed.
What measures to fight corruption are left to be taken? Why have we not taken such measures previously? What concrete steps will be born out of the Kabul Conference and effectively enhance the reputation and abilities of the government? How are these steps different than what has been done before?
SCR Mark Sedwill:
This conference is on Afghanistan - and the first to be held in Afghanistan - and focuses on Afghan priorities for the Afghan people. As such, it has to be seen as primarily an Afghan event. The Afghan Government will be presenting where it sees the future of the country going and how it intends to improve security, governance, economic growth and better service delivery to all Afghans. The international community is expected to support and align its efforts and commitments with these Afghan priorities and programmes. This conference builds on the London Conference last January but it is not a pledging or donor conference.
Corruption has been in the news a lot recently and is arguably the biggest problem facing all of us. Everyone admits things need to get better in this area. In London, the international community pledged that 50% of aid funding would go directly through the Afghan government. Today, aid from donors is well audited and donor funding spent through Afghan government ministries is generally well accounted for. It's actually when aid money is spent outside of the Afghan government that you have less assurance that funds are being spent properly and not being siphoned off for personal gain. What we need to do is build up the capacity of the Government, which, in turn, will help tackle corruption. We are working with them to address that, as are the other donors. There is a lot happening now on anti-corruption. There is the reinforcement of the High Office of Oversight, the Afghan Government's main anti-corruption body; the introduction of procedural changes within ministries. At Kabul, the Afghan Government will be presenting a set of comprehensive and concrete measures aimed at further tightening its grip over corruption. This is a clear demonstration of its resolve to address the problem and we fully support it.
There is also work to do ourselves, notably in reviewing some of our own contracting practices that have, quite frankly, been conducive to corruption. We are currently looking at the matter, notably in improving our oversight over the sub-contracting process.
David Axe, World Politics Review, Washington, DC:
In many areas of Afghanistan, everyday Afghans say that the Taliban are better, more honest, enforcers of street-level security. If the Taliban is providing a basic governmental service that the Karzai regime has failed to provide for so long, to what extent does that undermine the whole rationale for partnering with the current Afghan government?
SCR Mark Sedwill:
To be frank, the vast majority of people in Afghanistan are more than familiar enough with what the Taliban regime did from 1996-2001. The Taliban do not provide street-level security, they are certainly not honest, and they do not provide basic services. The issue is that in certain, more difficult, outlying areas of the country, where the Government does not have a strong presence, people are afraid and intimated by the Taliban and maintain a quiet sitting on the fence posture - they are waiting to see what security, development and governance is provided. One figure sticks in my mind on the Taliban: according to ISAF figures, from 1 January to 10 April 2010, the insurgency caused 243 fatalities and 534 injuries, a total of 777 civilian casualties. This is around 50% higher than the same period in 2009. On a daily basis they target government workers, threaten teachers and girls going to school and regularly carry out assassinations, abductions and executions of government officials who are trying to improve the lives of all Afghans. This is not what people - in Afghanistan and anywhere else - want for themselves and their children.
To the contrary, a number of polls show that the vast majority of Afghans do not want the Taliban regime back in power and have ever-increasing confidence in their government institutions. Let's not forget that Afghanistan has progressed in many areas in the last nine years. The Afghan national security forces have been built from scratch. There is a democratically elected government and Parliament; more than 600 media; 20 poppy-free provinces of a total of 34. 83% of Afghans have access to basic healthcare; 7 million students go to school, 37% of whom are girls. Afghanistan had a historic GDP growth of 22.5% in 2009-2010. And much more could be said. Of course, there is always room for criticism and scepticism, simply because there is no quick fix to Afghanistan and the country will clearly be a work in progress for many years. The greatest achievement of all is that there is now a better-off alternative to the Taliban regime, one that offers opportunities for the future. Ultimately, it will be for the Taliban to abide by the Afghan government's conditions and join the new system in place, not the other way around.
Laurelle Russell-Atkinson, Geopolitical Analyst and Writer, Central Tilba, New South Wales, Australia:
Do you think the conglomeration of NGOs and military forces are detracting from the Afghani Government's ability to take responsibility for security, welfare, services, etc.?
SCR Mark Sedwill:
What the international community does in Afghanistan is not just fill the vacuum and do the job for the Afghans. Our ultimate objective is to see Afghanistan stand up on its feet again and look after itself in an independent, self-sustaining and long-lasting manner. While we have indeed been bridging the gap caused by 30 years of war and the destruction of the national system and infrastructure, we have also been working hard to build Afghan capacity. The work of all in Afghanistan matters. We would not be able to do our job without the concomitant actions of others. We have already gone a long way in enhancing the Afghan government's ability to take responsibility for its own affairs. Afghan national security forces are growing in numbers and strength. The Afghan institutional, banking and financial systems are developing in such a way that we are increasingly able to channel resources through the Afghan government. Economically, NATO has recently approved the Afghan First policy, the aim of which is to increase NATO-ISAF's local procurement, the use of Afghan contractors, and the employment of Afghan labour. The list is not exhaustive; everything that we, the international community, are seeking to do in Afghanistan, whether politically, militarily or economically, is to transition to Afghan leadership whenever possible.
Klaus Spiessberger, Phoenix Group, Munich, Germany:
The German Minister of Defence Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg lately announced a strategy paper that includes a severe reduction of German military troops in general. Right now, Germany is one of the most important partners of NATO in Afghanistan. What consequences for the NATO strategy will a reduction of German military forces in Afghanistan have, and how successful is the cooperation with Germany concerning the promised police assistance?
SCR Mark Sedwill:
Germany is a vital part of NATO and German forces have done an exceptional work in Afghanistan since deploying here in 2002. All 46 countries in ISAF remain fully committed to the mission in Afghanistan and I know Germany does too. By the end of this summer, ISAF will have around 140,000 troops on the ground (98000 US, 50000 non-US) and the ANSF will be close to 250,000. Of course, none of us want to stay there a day longer than we have to. Our strategy is clear: to transfer responsibility to the Afghan forces and the government as their capability increases and as conditions allow. What NATO and the Government of Afghanistan are working on is to determine when and where conditions on the ground will allow for transfer to take place and for ISAF forces to shift to a more supportive role, thereby allowing for a drawdown in troop numbers. This takes time and must not be seen as a rush home, because the fundamental reason for the mission in Afghanistan is to make the country secure, safe and stable for the Afghan people and the rest of the world.
Nazif M. Shahrani, PhD, Chairman, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana:
Will Ambassador Sedwill and the international community advocate for the consideration of a Constitutional amendment or revision in favor of enshrining the principles of decentralization and community self-governance at all levels of Afghanistan's administration - villages, districts, urban municipalities, provinces - within a unitary federal national government with clearly articulated rights and responsibilities for each of them?
Could a new Constitutional provision allowing the Taliban (and all other communities in the country), the possibility for governing their own communities peacefully offer them sufficient incentive to lay down their arms?
SCR Mark Sedwill:
The future development of Afghanistan has to be up to the Afghans on matters like this. But it is worth noting that the history of Afghanistan over the centuries shows us threads of democracy running through the country that we often don't give the Afghans enough credit for. The Loya Jirga in 2002 framed the way forward. The recent Peace Jirga showed 1,600 people coming together to agree that peace was needed in Afghanistan and it laid out clear terms of reference for reconciliation with insurgents - renounce terrorism, respect the Constitution, respect the gains made in human rights since 2002. Decisions are already being taken on a daily basis across the country in some of the most difficult to reach villages. District and Provincial Councils meet to decide on local development issues, schools, clinics, wells, roads and more. They put together proposals and bid for central government money.
Sana Azad Rasoul, School for Oriental and African Studies, London, England:
Afghanistan's regional positioning is a vital cause for concern. You were the Deputy High Commissioner in Pakistan and so can readily see the potential problems that Pakistan may pose to the reconstruction of Afghanistan into a more prosperous, safe and less corrupt state.
Do you see extremist Islamist activity on the borders with Afghanistan to be a major problem that the Afghan government has to shoulder alone in the bid to becoming more self-reliant, or will there be more support from the international community as Afghanistan builds itself up again from the ashes? Specifically, I would like to know how the question of Pakistan will be brought up at the conference, if at all.
SCR Mark Sedwill:
Pakistan is also paying a heavy price in the fight against extremism. Pakistani soldiers are dying every day. Trust, confidence-building measures and mutual understanding between Pakistan and Afghanistan are moving forward everyday as they realize they share a common terrorist threat. Cross-border cooperation in particular is progressing well with the establishment of border coordination centre on both the Afghan and the Pakistani sides. At ISAF HQ, Afghan and Pakistani officers work side by side at the Tripartite Joint Intelligence Centre.
There is a regional conference in Kabul on 19 July as well, at which Pakistan is invited. The next day, at the international conference, trade and refugee return will be among the subjects of discussion under regional cooperation. I am sure that these two events will be a further stepping stone towards strengthening relations. NATO will play its part and do as much as possible to help Afghanistan, Pakistan and all the neighbouring countries in helping the peace process in Afghanistan.
Peter Dow, Aberdeen, Scotland:
A report titled "Warlord, Inc." by Congressman John Tierney exposes the outrage of NATO-ISAF irresponsibly paying private contractors billions of dollars to try to supply us in Afghanistan over ground controlled by warlords and the Taliban who demand pay-offs and bribes with which to sustain their insurgency.
When will our supply routes be properly secured by competent military generals? Will NATO-ISAF construct an Afghanistan railway for the purpose of supply?
Has NATO been timid and lacked vision with regard to major infrastructure investment?
SCR Mark Sedwill:
I have not seen that report and would therefore refrain from commenting on it. However, we are aware of the need to review our contracting practices and this is currently being done. A number of efforts are being invested in securing our supply routes. In particular, the Afghan and Pakistani authorities, alongside ISAF forces, are taking decisive efforts to address the safety and security of convoys crossing the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan. ISAF also has significant redundancy in its lines of communication network to provide for other means of re-supplying ISAF forces in Afghanistan. NATO has been working on alternative transit agreements notably as part of the northern access route.
The first Afghan railway is currently being constructed in northern Afghanistan, with the aim of linking Mazar-e-Sharif to central Asia's extensive rail network. This, however, is not work done or to be done by NATO-ISAF, but something that falls directly in the remit of development agencies. But we do welcome the initiative and there is no doubt that, once complete, it will offer an additional supply alternative.
Soyen Park, Park & Company, Seoul, South Korea:
What would NATO do for the election (for the lower house of Parliament) to be carried out safely? Is postponing the election an option at all?
SCR Mark Sedwill: Just like last year during the Presidential elections, the Afghan national security forces will hold the lead for security. NATO-ISAF will stand ready to work with the Government, the ANA and the ANP to provide logistical and security support to the ANSF.
Preparations for the Parliamentary elections are proceeding well and ahead of schedule. Candidate nomination is now complete and technical preparations for the polling day are underway.
Darrell Brown, Student, Trident Technical College, Charleston, South Carolina:
What options do the young people of Afghanistan have as a deterrent to their being lured into participating in either drug trafficking or terrorist movements against the government of Afghanistan? Is there any way for those who operate the opium fields to legitimize them for service to the various pharmaceutical companies under legal contracts?
SCR Mark Sedwill: The alternative for Afghan young people does not come down to a choice between drug trafficking and terrorism. One of the key achievements of the past nine years has been to open up perspectives for the future beyond this alternative. Through education, training and mentoring programmes, young Afghan males and females can once again study freely, open businesses, and work in public service.
NATO-ISAF is not the authority to speak of the legalization of poppy cultivation for medical purposes. However, our standpoint remains unchanged. We fully support the position shared by the Afghan government, UNAMA and all relevant counter-narcotics agencies that legalizing opium for medical purposes would be a severe mistake and a dangerous course that would undermine efforts to develop a stable democracy in Afghanistan; a number of substantiated arguments have been put forward to refute this in a very clear manner.
Mairi MacRae, Policy and Advocacy Manager, WOMANKIND Worldwide, London, England:
How can you ensure that civil society, particularly women, are involved and have a voice in the forthcoming conference and in future peace building discussions? More specifically, can you guarantee that women's rights will not be traded away in any process of negotiation with the Taliban?
SCR Mark Sedwill:
It has been said many times that any negotiations with the Taliban or any insurgent group would only occur against a backdrop of acceptance of the Afghan constitution, a constitution that firmly enshrines the rights of women. Along with the renunciation of violence, association with Al Qaeda and international terrorism, these are the two red lines for negotiations - both for the international community, and the Afghan Government who, indeed, are responsible for leading any such discussions.
Women are increasingly taking their place in Afghanistan's nascent democracy, as exemplified by the record number of female candidates - 406 - in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Furthermore, 10 of those are from the Kuchi minority group, so this is a marker of hope not only for Afghan women but Afghan democracy.
Alex Marshall, PhD., Scottish Centre for War Studies, Glasgow University, Glasgow, Scotland:
Do you feel that NATO and the international community have now settled on a clear medium to longer term strategy to manage the Afpak theatre, and what in your view are the main lessons to be learnt from the past nine years?
Does David Cameron's commitment to drawdown the majority of troops in Afghanistan by 2015 signify the beginnings of an effective UK exit strategy?
SCR Mark Sedwill:
I cannot speak for Prime Minister Cameron and can only refer you to his own words on the question of UK troop drawdown. What I can reaffirm, however, is that all 46 ISAF troop contributing nations fully support the mission and remain committed to it. A positive note is that setting timelines is forcing all stakeholders in Afghanistan to have a more effects-based, comprehensive and coordinated approach to efforts in Afghanistan.
In the video clip below, Ambassador Sedwill outlines what is at stake for Afghanistan's future at this key event and explains what role NATO-ISAF will play on the occasion.
- Q&A with Ambassador Mark Sedwill: Part II
- Details on International Conference in Afghanistan
- Ambassador Mark Sedwill's full biography
- Duties of the NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan
- Atlantic Memo 22: Supporting Better Governance
- Atlantic Memo 11: Afghan Media War: A Failure to Communicate
- Atlantic Memo 9: Afghan Police and Economy: Lynchpins for Success