At the 2010 Lisbon summit NATO leaders agreed to a transition process for Afghanistan. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are to take the lead in conducting security operations by the end of 2014. The clock is ticking: persistent capability gaps in the ANSF remain, but Western leaders are keen to prove to the public that transatlantic commitments towards Afghanistan, at least in their current constellation, are limited. International engagement over the past decade has shown that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan; and that Afghans need to be in the lead of taking responsibility for their security. The decision in favor of transition reflects these realizations.
But, current approaches to training the ANSF omit a key component in the transition process. A sustainable political solution is possible only if an increasing emphasis is placed on accountability - and on governance. Both are needed to ensure that the Afghan government and its institutions work towards stability and in the interest of the Afghan people beyond 2014. The challenges to establishing good governance and effective civilian control over the ANSF are well documented. They include corruption, factionalism, weak oversight mechanisms, political interference, and a central government that lacks legitimacy and reach beyond the capital, Kabul. The concurrent focus on reconciliation as part of a broader political transition strategy in Afghanistan makes the challenge of governance all the more urgent.
What can NATO and the international community do to make the transition sustainable? For one, NATO has to step up its commitment to training the ANSF and to professionalize the Afghan National Army (ANA) as well as the Afghan National Police (ANP). Challenges facing reform efforts include conflicting loyalties, high rates of attrition and a general lack of professionalism - and reinforce concerns over sustainability. An exclusive focus on training, however, risks privileging quantity over quality and short-term over long-term efforts. The ANP, for instance, should be an instrument of the rule of law in the short and long term. But, current training efforts almost exclusively focus on the role of the police in counter-insurgency. This signals that the relationship between the security and civilian functions to be taken on by the Afghan police has to be re-conceptualized.
On the part of NATO, the near exclusive focus on security also highlights the need for increasing engagement with other international actors that engage in civilian reconstruction. This includes the UN, but also the EU. To be sure, NATO took on what were initially conceived as civilian tasks because of (civilian) shortfalls in police training. This is understandable. Still, civilian contributions remain crucial to ensure the long-term sustainability of transition. It is time that NATO and its partners re-conceptualize and implement a civil-military, long-term and short-term, division of labor. In order to do so, NATO should continue to work with its partners to ensure coherence of efforts when it comes to training and governance, and the civilian and military tasks of the ANP in particular. Some progress has been made. Cooperation with EUPOL Afghanistan, the EU police mission in Afghanistan, has improved, and the NATO training mission increasingly includes aspects of civilian policing in its curriculum. But more needs to be done to incorporate rule of law functions in the training but also broader reconstruction efforts. For instance, reforming the justice sector has been largely neglected - in terms of training judges, strengthening judicial institutions, and reinforcing the links between the police and justice sectors.
Thus, there is an urgent need to go beyond training. International military engagement can create security space for political solutions to take hold. But this rests upon the assumption that the governance structures in place can absorb these processes -in Afghanistan they cannot. Weak political institutions reinforce the need for broader political engagement to strengthen, or indeed restore, the legitimacy of Afghan institutions. Bringing about a sustainable transition requires the international community to focus on governance, political institutions and the role played by civil society. This calls for a conceptual engagement with a role for the ANA and ANP that goes beyond the present focus on counterinsurgency for starters - and places an emphasis on legitimacy, not force. Beyond oversight mechanisms, incorporating a political dimension in the current approach towards transition also means focusing on local acceptance and legitimacy to encourage Afghan buy-in.
Recalibrating the civil-military balance and aligning positions of the various actors engaged in aspects of reconstruction will assist in this process. It will enable the international community to set up incentive structures and apply conditionality for the Afghan government to take political reform more seriously. 2014 is a narrow deadline. It is about ANSF taking the lead, but does not necessarily signal the end of international engagement. Given the political challenges outlined above as well as suggestions for how to tackle them, NATO should take into account to a greater extent civilian capabilities and implementation practices. Beyond 2014, Afghanistan and the international community need a civilian and a political strategy to ensure the sustainability of transition. But for that to happen, the planning and implementation of such a strategy has to start - now.
Eva Gross is a Senior Research Fellow, at the Institute for European Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Free University Brussels).
This article was submitted for the atlantic-community.org's
competition: "Empowering Women in International Relations." It coincides
with the 10th Anniversary of UN resolution 1325 calling for an
increased influence of women in all aspects of peace and security. The
contest is sponsored by the U.S. Mission to NATO and the NATO Public
You can read more submissions from the competition here.