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Post-NATO Afghanistan: neighbours and friends

 

A Note by the Director                                            Ditchley 14/09
20-22 November 2014


Introduction
A rainy late November saw Ditchley looking at the prospects for Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal from combat operations, and how its neighbours and others in the international community could now help. We were grateful for the support of the Open Society Foundations for this timely discussion. Our excellent chair was insistent that we should look forward, not back, and we mostly followed his injunction. Some last minute withdrawals meant we were lacking Indian, Russia and Iranian voices around the table, but we had a diverse and interesting group otherwise, who were mostly keen to look at the positive elements in the picture, rather than dwelling on the negative.

Summary

The new President and CEO had a unique opportunity, which had to be taken quickly, to change governance in Afghanistan, and retain international support. This required a shared vision and strategy, not just political accommodations of the old kind. But could the two men work together like this, if they were having such difficulty even forming a new government? Some quick wins were needed, as well as major reforms in areas like land and revenue generation.

The new government would have to address the fiscal deficit but needed a breathing space before plunging headlong into austerity. The underlying problem was how to transform a rent-seeking economy into a productive one. Natural resources might be the answer in the end, but most development was decades away, except perhaps for oil and gas. Investment would be hard to attract as long as stability was not there. Agriculture needed more help.

The security situation would remain difficult for some time, but the Taliban did not look strong enough to mount a major challenge to the new armed forces for now. Leadership would be crucial in maintaining the will to fight, as well as continuing support from NATO. In the medium term the current armed forces were unsustainable financially, which could not be wished away. Meanwhile security for many Afghans was more about local abuses by warlords and the authorities than the Taliban. This had to change. Al Qaeda and other insurgent/terrorist groups had not gone away either, but it was important not to see the situation just through an anti-terrorist lens.

Reconciliation with the Taliban was possible and desirable, but substantive negotiations in the immediate future were unlikely, and possibly unwise until the benefits of better governance and reform had kicked in and weakened Taliban support further. A talking and fighting strategy seemed the most probable approach for now, which should help to concentrate Taliban minds.

The regional context was crucial, but regional cooperation was most notable by its absence for now. Hedging and the use of proxies had to stop. There was a chance of a new relationship with Pakistan,and new policies in Islamabad, but a huge distance to go before any kind of real trust could be created. Positive engagement by China, in areas such as security as well as facilitation of talks and economic investment, was seen as a potentially major new and hopeful factor, welcomed by nearly all players including the US.

It was vital that the wider international community stayed engaged, both through continued military support and development and humanitarian aid, despite the obvious Afghan fatigue in many countries. NATO had to carry through its promises for Operation Resolute Support at least until 2016 and perhaps beyond. It was legitimate for donors to insist on real change and better aid coordination and effectiveness in return for their money, but they should not pull the plug now. The arguments for safeguarding what had been achieved were strong, and needed to be made above all by the new government in Kabul. Recent events in Iraq had meanwhile been helpful in focussing western minds on the need to avoid a similar collapse in Afghanistan, though the situations were not really comparable.

Some broad recommendations are listed, in line with the above analysis. Our conclusion was one of (very) cautious optimism for now, but a recognition that this could quickly turn if there was not real change. It was not clear that there would be any willingness to rescue Afghanistan again if the current elite did not step up as hoped.

Main Note

The future governance of Afghanistan

Our starting point was the internal political situation and the prospects in the wake of the 2014 Presidential election and the agreement of the two main candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, to work together in a new government as President and CEO respectively. This was seen as a possibly unique opportunity to change the way Afghanistan had been run hitherto. The political elite of the country needed to come together around a genuinely shared vision of the future. The hope was that past reliance on accommodation of traditional power brokers and warlords would be replaced by governance arrangements based on merit and the real contribution a particular individual or group could bring; and that corruption, which had become not just a way of doing business but also a way of life, could be replaced by relationships based on mutual interest and respect. The establishment of political parties in the country would be a sign of a move away from judging everything on ethnic and personal criteria.

It was understood that not everything could change overnight and that expectations of the new leadership should be kept at reasonable levels. However there would be huge disappointment if it turned out that Afghanistan was being governed in the same old way. Political change and better governance were the keys to everything. Some quick wins would be helpful as visible symbols of this change, e.g. imprisonment of some individuals, return of some money, and a proper investigation of the Kabul Bank scandal. No-one thought the new President was corrupt himself but that would not be enough if those around him did not behave differently.

There was a degree of cautious optimism around the table about all this, but it was tempered by an appreciation of the multiple threats and difficulties the new leadership faced and the many unresolved questions. The most urgent issue was whether Ghani and Abdullah would really be able to work together, with a joint vision and strategy, or whether governing would in the end be about the usual dubious compromises and political deals. The severe tensions in the immediate aftermath of the elections had hardly been encouraging, and the delay in the formation of the new government was also worrying. If there were not at least a core of ministers in place by the London conference on 4 December, worry could quickly turn to alarm. It was vital not only that the two leaders got on well with each other, but also that their inner circles did too.

Some doubted whether the model of a two-headed administration could ever really work, citing failed experiments in other countries as well as private company experiences with Executive Chairmen and CEOs. Others worried that Afghanistan could not be managed from the centre without deals with the regional power brokers/warlords, however distasteful, at least until a new political consensus had been fully established. Trying to implement major reform, while simultaneously fighting powerful internal opposition, would be a huge challenge. As against this, knowledgeable voices around the table pointed out that Afghanistan today was very different from the country of 13 years ago — 70% of the population was under 30, and their views and expectations had changed a great deal. The warlords might still exist and could no doubt not be ignored, but their militias were no longer mini-armies as they had been — the Afghan Army now had the monopoly of heavy weapons as well as superior numbers and training. In any case jobs for the boys as in the past would simply not be good enough.

What sort of political reforms might be needed? Views were divided on the benefits of constitutional change – many did not think this a top priority. But, with parliamentary elections due next year, the electoral system urgently needed to be fixed if future election results were to be regarded by the public as credible. Other institutional weaknesses had to be addressed. For the rest, it would essentially be about delivering better government services, collecting revenue, and stopping abuses. Safeguarding property rights would be a good start. Increasing civil service capacity would also help to make a difference.

We spent some time on the difficult fiscal and economic situation. One of the first tasks of the new government would be to address the 2015 fiscal deficit, estimated to be somewhere between $0.5 billion and $1 billion. This might not seem a huge sum in absolute terms, but the budget itself was only around $2 billion! Existing revenues, for example from customs, were not being collected, and new sources of revenue were also urgently needed. Salvation from dues levied on Afghanistan’s vast mineral potential was probably decades away, though oil and gas might come on stream more quickly. Views varied on the necessary response from the new government. Some suggested spending cuts would simply have to be made if the right signal were to be sent about better governance. Others, probably the majority, agreed that the deficit would have to be tackled seriously over time, but thought that if the new government started without anything to spend, and tried to push through too much austerity too soon, its credibility would be diminished at a sensitive and crucial moment. Civil servants had to be paid. The international community, including the IFIs, would therefore no doubt have to help, for example by frontloading some aid flows. But they should only be ready to do that if there were genuine signs of better governance and a convincing set of ministers in place.

The underlying problem was the state of the economy. The current dispensation in Afghanistan was unsustainable in the absence of large-scale foreign aid. The disappearance of the large amount of international money and employment which had accompanied the ISAF presence was inevitably having a depressive effect — growth would be at a very low level (1.5 %?) in 2015, and jobs even scarcer than usual. There had been significant capital flight both from domestic sources and international investors, and property prices in Kabul were well down (admittedly from an artificially high level). The current rent-seeking economy had to change to a genuinely productive one. But where could greater legitimate economic activity, and therefore also greater government revenue, come from? We had no good answers in the short term, though the need to help agriculture (still far and away the majority activity)and SMEs more was emphasised. This was where reforms could help, notably land reform to prevent illegal land grabs.

We talked in this context about the drugs issue. Opium production had been shooting up again recently, which was alarming from all points of view — and particularly worrying to Afghanistan’s neighbours. Afghanistan itself now had a major drugs-user problem. However we had no good solutions to offer. Previous internationally-driven policies of eradication, interdiction and crop substitution had all failed, and should not be pursued in their previous forms. In the end alternative livelihoods were the only way forward, but there was no miracle solution. If insecurity and instability were reduced — as well as corruption — drug production should ultimately come down. The Afghans and their neighbours would have to devise new ways forward in this area themselves, and take a good look at what had worked elsewhere.

What were the prospects for foreign investment in Afghanistan? It was difficult to be optimistic in the short term, despite the mineral resources. Potential investors, particularly those from developed western countries, were put off by continuing violence. Those from, say, China and India might be more resilient in this respect, but they too wanted a stable and generally secure environment, even if it did not need to be entirely bomb-free (as it was hardly likely to be). The requirement was as much about a predictable and stable political environment, and a predictable and stable regulatory system, as about the end of insurgent violence. The Afghan government needed expertise to be able to award and monitor large contracts effectively. A functioning financial sector would also be important. The picture was not entirely bleak — Chinese companies had shown real interest in some areas, for example, and there were interesting interconnection and infrastructure projects around. Oil and gas exploration was well under way. Rare earths might well attract particular foreign interest. But there was a very long way to go. Again it would all come down to better governance in the end.

The security situation

Inevitably we spent a good deal of time on security questions. A degree of cautious optimism was evident from many participants. The Afghan Security Forces (ANSF) had come a very long way in the last ten years. The Army (ANA) in particular was now a force to be reckoned with, in terms of numbers (around 350,000), training, effectiveness and morale. They had already been engaged in heavy fighting in some places, and had acquitted themselves reasonably well. They would go on fighting as long as they had a political and military leadership and system they thought worth fighting for. President Ghani   seemed determined to be an active Commander in Chief and ready to appoint new senior commanders, which was a good sign. Recruitment was buoyant, and better geographically spread than in the past. Most experts in the room thought that the Taliban would struggle to take any provincial capitals. The Afghan State now existed in a way in which it had not done previously.

At the same time, as on the political side, there were a good many contrary notes. Perhaps the biggest was the financial sustainability of the ANSF — while its current annual cost of $4 billion plus was covered by international donors for the next two years, there was no guarantee of funding after that, and every likelihood of a drastic reduction. This was certainly not financeable out of the government’s own budget for the foreseeable future. All acknowledged the seriousness of this problem, but there were differing views about how to tackle it. Some argued that this was a bridge which could only be crossed at the time, and attempts to tackle it now e.g. by starting to reduce the force structure, would send the wrong signal and demoralise the security forces at a critical moment. Others said that it was irresponsible not to start at least planning for a different structure now, given the size of the likely financing gap from 2016 onwards. The numbers and salaries were simply out of all proportion to what Afghanistan could afford.

There were other problems too. Logistics and command and control were significant weaknesses. Afghanistan had no air force, which left its army too vulnerable. The ANSF did not need e.g. F16s, but did require significant helicopter capability, not least for mobility and medevac purposes. The latter was particularly vital for a force taking significant casualties, if morale was not to drop (though some pointed out that the Taliban had no air force and no helicopters!). The attrition rate, i.e. the numbers of those leaving, was still unacceptably high, at around 30% annually in some areas, though that was a bit better than before. Even if recruitment remained good, the “churn” involved was very bad for effectiveness. The news received during the conference that US close air and other direct support operations would continue after the end of 2014 was seen as an important boost, but it was also vital that the planned NATO training and support presence materialised as planned up to the end of 2016, and perhaps beyond.

How strong was the Taliban in practice? Despite leadership and other losses, they had certainly not gone away, and were unlikely to do so for the foreseeable future. They probably had around 30,000 active fighters. They could obviously sense an opportunity with the end of the NATO combat mission. Indeed this was already visible from the increased number of attacks in many areas of the country, and their greater boldness in moving around in larger numbers. They would intensify their efforts to expand their control of the countryside, and the night-time. However they were more unpopular than they had been in the past, and had significantly failed to disrupt the Presidential elections, when most of the population had voted for the Afghan State, whichever candidate they had chosen. Their support among the Pashtuns had fallen, and they still had very little among other ethnic groups.

We thought it was important not to confine security threats to talk of the Taliban, nor to limit security just to the issue of insurgent violence. On the first point, there were a number of other groups active in Afghanistan and Pakistan who could pose a threat both to the country’s stability and internationally. Al Qaeda was still present, and indeed growing again, even if it was a different, less centralised Al Qaeda than in the past. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) were active. The TTP (aka Pakistan Taliban) should not be forgotten. And so on. It would be a mistake to look at Afghanistan once again through a purely counter-terrorism lens. But the threats could not be ignored either.

On the second point, it was argued forcibly that most Afghans’ experience of, and perception of, insecurity owed less to the Taliban or other insurgent groups than to daily abuses by local warlords and militias, incompetent/corrupt officials, and indeed in some cases by the security forces themselves. Reducing this kind of insecurity was vital not only for its own sake, but also in order to drain the swamp of support for the Taliban, and to increase popular backing for the government and the Afghan State. Once again, better governance was at the heart of this. The Taliban had lost support because of the number of civilian deaths it was causing. The ANSF should be careful not to go the same way.

One other cautionary note on the security front was the risk that Afghanistan could become a “national security state” because of the sheer size of its armed forces — especially if they were the only functioning central institution. An army coup might not be a far-fetched thought at some future point, if the civilian political elite did not get their act together or failed to support the security forces.

Reconciliation/negotiation

What were the prospects for reconciliation with the Taliban, and how should this be tackled? The general view was that reconciliation should be a significant aim of the new government. Preparations for negotiations with the Taliban, in the shape of preliminary contacts at both local and leadership levels, and the establishment of a small negotiating team, should therefore be set in train at an early stage. However, no-one expected substantive negotiations to happen any time soon. The view of the new President, and encouragingly of the new CEO too, seemed to be based on talking and fighting at the same time. It was easier for the Taliban to fight than to negotiate, and they would no doubt want to test their military strength first, in the absence of NATO combat forces. They would probably not become seriously interested in negotiations unless and until they concluded that the Afghan State could defend itself effectively. In any case it was probably not in the government’s interest either to rush into negotiations, or look desperate. They needed to prioritise good government first, to show the Afghan people they could deliver progress, including better services, more jobs, and greater aid effectiveness — which would in turn have the benefit of reducing support for the Taliban.

What would reconciliation look like? Or, to put the question another way, what would the negotiations be about? There was no very clear answer to these questions, or indeed to the question of what the Taliban actually wanted. These things could only be tested in actual discussions. The government would no doubt continue to insist for now that, before entering negotiations, the Taliban would have to give up their weapons and agree to respect the Constitution. However, there was no realistic prospect of them doing either (which raised the question of whether such preconditions were sensible).

Regional influences

We were clear that the regional context was crucial, and that regional cooperation was highly desirable and a real opportunity in the wake of the NATO combat withdrawal. It was equally clear that there was very little such cooperation for now, and that the present regional organisations and mechanisms were dysfunctional from this point of view. One possible way forward would be for the new government to set out its own vision of regional cooperation, and challenge others to fit into this.

The most important relationship was obviously with Pakistan. It had long been characterised by extreme mistrust, particularly on the Afghan side, despite President Karzai’s many visits to Pakistan, because of the perceptions of Pakistani support for the Taliban. There were differing views around the table about how far Pakistan’s role had been central in preventing more progress against the Taliban, but in any case the suspicions would not quickly evaporate, to say the least. President Ghani’s recent visit to Pakistan had been a good beginning, as had recent military contacts. Some hoped that the Pakistani establishment, including the leadership of the army and the ISI, had finally recognised the self-defeating, indeed potentially suicidal, nature of its relationship with the Taliban. However such hopes had been entertained before. For now the Taliban leadership were still in Pakistan. One important factor in the future Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship would be the extent to which Pakistan was willing to facilitate access to this leadership (most probably in a third country). In any case the relationship would need to be worked at very hard over time by both sides if there was to be any kind of genuine “reset”.

The Afghan-India relationship was also important. In principle there was no reason why this should be in competition with the Afghan-Pakistani relationship. Unfortunately, for the moment it was, though no doubt more in Pakistani minds than Indian ones. Indian investment in Afghanistan could be veryhelpful, but there was not much sign of serious capital flows for now. Did better regional co-operation in South Asia, to help Afghanistan, have to wait for Indo-Pakistani reconciliation (of which there was little or no sign for the moment, in the wake of Narenda Modi’s election victory), or could common interests in Afghanistan’s stability and prosperity help to bring the two countries together? The latter would obviously be desirable, but expectations were low.

The role of Iran would also be crucial in the future. One of the well-kept secrets of the last decade had been Iran-US de facto co-operation over Afghanistan. That needed to be maintained, whether or not the bilateral relationship was transformed by a nuclear deal. Iran was worried by opium production in Afghanistan as well as the threat of instability across its borders, and needed to be kept engaged and onside. They maintained links with some western Taliban groups just to make sure that Pakistan did not have a monopoly of such contacts.

We were not inclined to see the relationship between Afghanistan and its Central Asian neighbours as strategically important in the immediate future, despite the length of the borders, and the cross-border ethnic links. It was true that these neighbours could easily be even more infected than they already were by jihadism originating in Afghanistan (and the flow could go the other way too). Economic links through better physical connections could also be important in the future. There were already some interesting projects around in electricity and gas. The idea of a new “Silk Road” was an intriguing one, though unlikely to be realisable on any short time-scale. But the countries concerned had too many problems of their own to become centrally engaged in Afghanistan.

The most interesting current and prospective regional relationship by far was that with China. China had not only economic interests to pursue in Afghanistan, in the field of natural resources in particular, but also now saw as a vital Chinese interest a stable Afghanistan able to secure its borders, restrict drug production, and control jihadist movements on its territory. The threat from the so-called East Turkestan Islamic Movement and others was taken increasingly seriously, as anti-Beijing sentiment grew in Xinjiang. Thus China was not only offering to host and facilitate talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban, but was also ready to help the Afghan government and Afghanistan in other ways too, including in the security field, as long as this was clearly based on Afghan requests.

China had no intention of sending troops or taking on any kind of direct combat role. China did not seek to lead international efforts to help Afghanistan or displace the US/NATO role. Any negotiation process should be clearly Afghan-led. But there was doubt that China wanted to do more, that she was willing to work with the US, and that this was welcomed in principle not only by the US but also by other western countries. It was also apparently welcomed by Pakistan (though not necessarily India, or perhaps even Iran). There was a hope that China could exercise a helpful moderating influence on traditional Pakistani policies towards Afghanistan, and be more successful in this than the US had been. Trilogue between the US, China and Afghanistan could be very important, as well as Chinese involvement in other groupings.

We recognised that we were in danger of exaggerating the likely importance of the Chinese role, but nevertheless saw the Chinese interest on display as one of the most positive developments around Afghanistan for some time.

We did not spend a lot of time on the future Russian role — perhaps because, unfortunately, we lacked Russian participants. However, we recognised the depth of Russians past expertise on Afghanistan, their worries about drugs, and the need to involve them positively in international co-operation over Afghanistan. However difficult the situation over the Ukraine might become, it was certainly vital that the Russians did not adopt any kind of spoiler role.

Overall, our fervent hope was that Afghanistan’s neighbours could move away from past habits of “hedging” their future bets by use of ethnic or other proxies inside Afghanistan. This had been counterproductive for all concerned. It was time for it to stop. Afghanistan had the capacity to disrupt regional security as a whole if it went badly wrong again. All concerned should recognise their common interest in an effective central government in Kabul and in a state capable of controlling its own territory and borders. The idea of a UN-led regional pact of non-interference was brought up, but attracted little enthusiasm. Confidence could instead be built by starting cooperation in relatively non-controversial areas such as disaster preparedness or public health. Better back-channels between for example military and intelligence organisations could help too.

We acknowledged finally that regional contacts should certainly not be confined to relations between states. Links between civil society across the region could be very important in increasing understanding and reducing tensions, and should be fostered more intensively.

The role of the wider international community

Our starting point here was the need not to abandon Afghanistan now, but to offer continued support until the country was able to stand on its own two feet, despite the clear “fatigue” in most Western countries over both the ISAF combat mission, and the huge sums of aid which had been poured in to apparently limited effect. Although it was not unreasonable to believe that the results of both the military and aid efforts had been disappointing, the widespread perception that virtually nothing had been achieved was wide of the mark. Afghanistan was now a state with an army and a functioning constitution, despite all its weaknesses and imperfections. There had been significant progress in areas like longevity, health and education, particularly for girls, infrastructure, and human rights. The country had moved significantly up the Human Development Index. These achievements needed to be safeguarded and enhanced, not squandered. The new Afghan president and government needed to make the case for this in the west, and change the narrative, in a way that Karzai simply had not wanted or been able to.

Our second key point was that NATO and the West were not leaving Afghanistan. The main combat mission had ended, certainly. But NATO was committed to stay for at least two more years in a training and mentoring role, under Operation Resolute Support, and could stay longer. There was still a lot to do, as we had seen, in areas like air support, logistics, command and control and medevac facilities. Unfortunately, some key countries had yet to offer the necessary troops to make up the 12,500 strong force planned. The US was stepping up, as was Germany. But some others had so far said little or nothing, and some who had, such as the UK, had not so far offered as many personnel as had been hoped. This was deeply worrying — and all the more worrying when the proportion of the 12,500 planned forces who would be needed for force protection alone was fully taken into account, and those there for counter-terrorism reasons were also discounted. This kind of short-sighted thinking was not good enough, and risked sending exactly the wrong message to the Taliban.

We did hear an opposing argument that it would be better for NATO to withdraw altogether now, both to force the Afghans to take full responsibility for their own defence and to remove the Taliban justification — fighting foreign occupation — for their own armed struggle. But the general view was that, however tempting these arguments might be (and we certainly believed Afghans needed to be weaned off reliance on others to solve their problems), it was too soon to withdraw entirely.

On the political side, US and western involvement would continue to be important, though less central than in recent years. This would create space for an increased UN role, for example in mediation efforts aimed at reconciliation, and in coordination of the international effort. The appointment of an able and experienced envoy of the UN Secretary-General would be an important step. It would also be useful to include the UN in the 6+1 group, which was a valuable cross-cutting forum for international discussion. We saw merit in some kind of continuing Friends of Afghanistan group too, and in use of ‘variable geometry’ groupings where appropriate.

On the aid front, while we recognised that a progressive reduction in outside financing levels was inevitable and in many ways desirable, we were concerned that this should not be too sharp. As we had discussed, the new government’s immediate fiscal position was perilously fragile, even leaving aside the huge future cost of the ANSF, and leaving it to sink or swim now would again be short-sighted.

However, the international aid community would be well within its rights to insist on real reforms in exchange for continued support. Moreover the burden should progressively shift to the IFIs and development banks, including the new BRIC bank, and away from bilateral donors. For the moment the signs were mixed — US aid had already been halved by Congress, and this could go further, but others were hanging in there at reasonable levels for now. We thought that, on the whole, Western governments recognised the need to stick with Afghanistan more than their public opinions. In this context, the collapse of Iraq and the emergence of ISIL had been a useful wake-up call. No-one wanted to see a repeat performance in Afghanistan.

We also heard strong calls for the international aid community to be much tougher on Afghanistan this time round. Vast sums had been diverted and wasted, and it was completely unacceptable to go on pouring more money down the same black hole. Nothing would change unless the international community insisted on change, and clearly threatened to stop the flow of funding. This was seen by many round the table as too drastic, though the argument was well understood, and seen as in many ways justified. A major new effort to increase aid effectiveness was certainly needed, involving much better coordination between donors and the government. There was no doubt that, unless there were rapid, significant reforms and a major reduction in corruption and waste, western aid flows could decline very rapidly.

Recommendations

There were no simple Ditchley solutions for the many issues we discussed, but some broad areas of agreement and recommendation did emerge which are worth setting out:

  • The Afghan political elite should recognise the unique opportunity they now had, and the extreme risks of further failure, and come together to take major steps to improve the governance of the country.
  • Old ways of governing through ethnic and personal patronage, and appeasing local warlords, would no longer do. The formation of normal political parties would help symbolise the change.
  • The new government should be given some time, and a fiscal breathing space, to get itself together, but then needed to carry through serious reforms in key areas such as land reform, the electoral system, revenue collection, the financial system, and regulation for foreign investment.
  • The sustainability of the ANSF should start to be considered now, even if immediate force reductions would send the wrong signal.
  • Preparations and contacts for reconciliation with the Taliban should begin now, even if immediate negotiations were unlikely and possibly unwise, before the benefits of reform and better governance were felt.
  • Regional players should also recognise the opportunity of the present moment, and act individually and collectively to support the Afghan State. Use of proxies should be stopped.
  • A new relationship with Pakistan, and new polices in Islamabad, could make a huge difference but would have to be worked on intensively.
  • China’s constructive role in Afghanistan should be strongly encouraged, without setting expectations too high.
  • The international community should continue its support for Afghanistan through the current period, in security terms through a properly-supported continued NATO training presence, and economically through continued aid, in return for significant reform and greater aid effectiveness.
  • The new Afghan government needed urgently to make the case for continued international support, publicly and privately, to counter western ‘fatigue’.


Conclusion

Overall, while we were precariously balanced between optimism and pessimism, and hope and anxiety, we just favoured the former, not only because the alternative of Iraq-style collapse was too awful to contemplate, but because there did seem to be some objective reasons to hope for better in the future, and because there was now a genuine new opportunity to seize. But we were also conscious that Afghanistan really was in the last chance saloon when it came to western commitment. We did not expect immediate miracles, and accepted that Afghanistan would need outside financial and other support of some kind for years to come. We were certainly keen that exaggerated expectations of the new government should not become a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure later. But all were absolutely clear that things had to change. A continuation of the previous system would lead to further disaster, from which Afghanistan might no longer be rescuable.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

CHAIR: Mr Francesc Vendrell CMG 
Mediator-in-Residence, Department of Political Affairs, United Nations; Adjunct Professor of International Relations, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Bologna campus; Chair, Afghanistan Analysts Network; Senior Consultant, Intermediate; Senior Fellow, London School of Economics. Formerly: Diplomat-in-Residence and Visiting Professor, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University (2008-09); EU Special Representative for Afghanistan (2002-08); Personal Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Special Mission for Afghanistan (2000-01); Director, Asia and Pacific Division, UN Department of Political Affairs (1993-99); UN Special Envoy for Cambodia (1995-99), East Timor (1993-99), Myanmar (1993-99), Papua New Guinea (1995-98), Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh (1992-93); Deputy Special Representative for the Central American Peace Processes (1987-92); Director for Europe and Americas, Office of the UN Secretary-General (1986-92).

For a full list of Participants click here.


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