President Obama will want to see a significant enhancement of the European effort in Afghanistan. The issue is likely to be viewed in Washington as a litmus test of whether Europeans should be taken seriously as strategic partners. So the European response will go a long way to shape the transatlantic security relationship over the next 4 or 8 years.
But European support for NATOs' Afghan mission has been ebbing. The usual European critique of the West's effort in Afghanistan to date is to identify a lack of overall strategic coherence, and an over-emphasis, especially by the US, on the military conflict with the Taliban. Europeans believe development and security to be inter-dependent - and a number of EU member states have piloted this ‘comprehensive approach' in Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). The European Commission has also provided large sums of development assistance, augmenting the contribution of Member States, while the EUPOL mission is getting ready to bulk-up its number of police officers.
But while the EU's contribution is laudable, given its toolbox of capabilities and the need to re-launch trans-Atlantic ties, European leaders need to assume a stronger role, supporting reconstruction in the south and centre and helping to re-shape the international strategy for dealing both with the Afghan government and Pakistan.
First, the EU needs to take the PRT model and work out how European countries can help expand its scale, especially in the south and east. In Kabul, the PRT Executive Steering Committee should be bulked-up, with the EU committing to provide pre-trained staff for its management, a pool of civilian experts - numbering at least 100 - to be deployed into all PRTs for short and long-term assignments as well as the necessary policy support.
The EU should also tailor and run pre-deployment for all civilians deploying into PRTs - and, over time, for all Europeans, including NGOs, who are about to be deployed to the theatre - as well as set-up an evaluation process, which can feed lessons into all PRTs on an on-going basis. The European Commission must be partners in the effort, to ensure the full integration of the development dimension, and full exploitation of available budgets. Close consultation with NATO, UNAMA and the US is essential.
Second, the EU should offer to take a special role in the reconstruction of Kabul. There has been a sharp deterioration of security in Kabul and the belt of towns surrounding the capital. The Taliban know that instability in the capital has an outsized psychological impact on a country and the international community's resolve. They may not be about to over-run Kabul, but the Taliban are trying to create panic, and show that the government cannot control the land it sits on.
With the Afghan government having taken over responsibility for the city's security its further development will be a major test for President Kazai and the international coalition. Renewed support for the city's reconstruction is needed; the EU has experience in city reconstruction from the EU Administration in Mostar. It should offer the Afghan government a cross-disciplinary team, led by an experienced European city administrator, to help adjust existing political, military and reconstruction plans for, and international support to, Kabul's stabilization and reconstruction.
With a two-year mandate, a Kabul C-PRT - Capital Reconstruction Team - would ensure that civilian development goes hand-in-hand with the security transition to the ANA from ISAF. If the method works in Kabul, it could even serve as a model for Afghanistan's other large cities, perhaps serving as a model for Kandahar or Jalalabad.
Any stability achieved in Afghanistan will remain unacceptably fragile as long as neighbors such as Pakistan, India, Russia and Iran treat the country as a pawn in their own regional power play, and refuse to accept that stable governance in Afghanistan is in their own long-term interests. A new trans-Atlantic long-term strategy towards the southwest Asian region is required and Europeans will need to play their part.
Next week, the "Friends of Pakistan" group will meet in the UAE to discuss ways for the international community to help Islamabad. Before this happens, European foreign ministers should debate the EU's Pakistan policy - or lack of it - and prepare policy proposals to assist Islamabad. The EU should lobby for a new "assistance envoy", who could start preparing a donor's conference, to be held in Islamabad early next year.
The EU should also offer to host a quiet retreat where a small group of European leaders take part with the US president, and the Canadian Prime Minister to discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan.
All is not lost in Afghanistan. However, a new strategy, including strengthened relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, is required. The EU needs to play its proper role in devising such a new strategy and in offering the necessary resources to sustain it.
Daniel Korski, senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. A former British official, he was a senior advisor in the US State Department, and then led the Basra Reconstruction Team.