Istanbul '09 Workshop

Dealing with Crises in Afghanistan and Pakistan: Strategic Issues

General Karl-Heinz Lather
Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE)

General Karl-Heinz Lather

With regard to the overall strategy, the NATO Alliance has an approach for achieving enduring progress in Afghanistan, which all the heads of state and government agreed to at the Bucharest Summit in April 2008 and recently re-affirmed and updated at the Strasbourg/Kehl Summit. Not surprisingly, the key elements of the new U.S. strategic approach are consistent with this NATO approach. There are no major disagreements-only differences of emphasis. I will illustrate this by framing my comments with the four guiding principles of the NATO approach.


First is long-term commitment: NATO has recognized that the international community will need to be engaged in the region on an enduring basis if we are to achieve our goals. Such a commitment is necessary for a number of reasons. To begin with, there is still much to do to reconstruct Afghanistan’s infrastructure, economy, society, and government. This will take time. Next, we need to reassure Afghans that we, the international community, will stay as long as it takes and that we will not abandon the region as we did after the Soviet withdrawal, or ever allow the possibility of a return to a Taliban regime. Lastly, from a military perspective, we require the long-term commitment in order to enable us to plan and resource the longer-term infrastructure projects required, including the Afghan National Army and National Police.


The next guiding principle in the NATO approach is Afghan leadership. UN Security Council Resolution 1386 (2001), which authorized the establishment of ISAF, recognized that the responsibility for providing security and law and order resides with the Afghans themselves. ISAF’s role was, and is, to assist with security until the Afghans can do the job unaided. Indeed SACEUR’s end state, and our exit strategy, is the establishment of Afghan security forces which can provide security without NATO support. There are a number of areas where we can help develop Afghan capacity to assume a leadership role. These include mentoring Afghan National Army units, providing advice and capacity-building programs to the Afghan MoD, as well as wider support to the development of governance, the rule of law, and democratic processes. At the Strasbourg /Kehl Summit, NATO announced a range of further initiatives in this area. These include the establishment of a NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, the provision of more trainers and mentors in support of the Afghan National Police, and the provision of more mentor teams for the Afghan National Army.

On the security side one of the best ways to develop capability is actually to put Afghans in the driver’s seat. We have seen from the process of transferring the lead for security in Kabul province, that the Afghans are more than capable of stepping up to the mark, and have rapidly become effective. As conditions permit and in conjunction with the Afghan Government, we will look to expand this process beyond Kabul. Again, the focus on developing Afghan abilities was reflected in the new U.S. strategy.


The third guiding principle is enhanced coordination of all the lines of effort-most commonly known as the “Comprehensive Approach.” Now that we can see that after 7 years success remains elusive, there is a growing consensus that to achieve stabilization in Afghanistan (and it will be the same in Pakistan) there needs to be genuine progress along the three main lines of effort at the same time-that is to say security, governance, and reconstruction and development-the three pillars of the Afghan National Development Strategy. In straightforward terms, we cannot provide security by military means alone, when frustration at the lack of good governance and the lack of tangible signs of economic development drive people into the arms of the insurgency. It is worth commenting that the conditions fomenting the insurgency in Afghanistan are almost exactly replicated in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, and so it is evident that the same comprehensive approach is required there. To achieve this comprehensive approach requires the integration of the efforts of multiple actors including different ministries of the contributing governments, U.N. international and non-governmental organizations, as well as the ministries of the Afghan government. At its Strasbourg / Kehl Summit, NATO committed to provide more support to the Afghan government and U.N. to achieve just such an integrated approach.


The last of NATO’s guiding principles is regional engagement. We have recognized that extremists in Pakistan, especially in western areas, and the insurgency in Afghanistan undermine security and stability in both countries and that the problems are deeply intertwined. NATO supports enhanced military-to-military cooperation through the Tripartite Commission structures and Border Coordination Centres and through exchanges of liaison officers and high-level political contacts. Indeed, NATO supports any initiative aimed at improving relations and cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbors. This theme is of course a major element running through the whole of the new U.S. approach, with the appointment of Ambassador Holbrooke as special envoy to both countries, and with parallel initiatives to boost counter- insurgency capabilities and civilian development on both sides of the border simultaneously.

This developing consensus is not only between the U.S. and NATO. The International Conference on Afghanistan held in The Hague on 31 March, which was attended by 71 countries and 11 major international organizations, picked up on exactly the same themes. Similarly, the Donors’ Conference in Tokyo on 17 April, which consolidated the support of the international community for Pakistan’s stable development, was designed to be coherent with the U.S. strategy, The Hague conference, and the NATO Summit. Again, on the operational level the Joint Force Command Brunssum-led PRT conference in Maastricht in early June tried to foster relations between the Afghan Government, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and NATO.


In recognizing that there is broad consensus about what needs to be done, there is genuine difficulty in agreeing how to do it-the devil is in the detail! The national governments of the 28 NATO and 14 non-NATO countries contributing to ISAF are each responsible to their own electorates with differing collective views on the importance of the mission. In this difficult current economic climate, it is inevitable that there will be conflicting views on resource priorities. To implement the comprehensive approach itself presents problems-for example, UNAMA is both under-resourced and too weak in its mandate for its overall coordinating role. And many international actors do not necessarily want to be coordinated, as they pursue what their nation or organization perceives as the priorities. In implementing the strategy we also have to acknowledge the realities of dealing with sovereign governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We must work with and through the indigenous institutions, keeping their legitimate interests in mind.

To sum up, there is broad international consensus on the key elements of the approach to dealing with the crises in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although differences remain over resourcing and prioritization of implementation, NATO is already pursuing several key initiatives that in conjunction with the renewed impetus provided by the new U.S. commitment to the region should move us in the right direction.

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