Center for Strategic Decision Research

Ambassador Omar Samad

Ambassador Omar Samad
Ambassador of Afghanistan to France

Strategic Fine-Tuning to Assure Mission Success in Afghanistan

Since 2009, the international community, the United States in particular, has been involved in a series of strategic reviews of its engagement in Afghanistan. It is currently in the process of implementing a civil-military strategy announced by President Obama in December 2009 as part and parcel of the Afghanistan Pakistan (AfPak) package.


What is the situation today? In Afghanistan, the ongoing conflict is unlikely to be resolved without a lot more time, and Afghan institutions and capacities are weak. Around the globe, there are economic constraints and signs of fatigue and apprehension among donor nations, especially in the west, because there is a sense that the return on investment should be quick and Afghanistan does not seem to provide a quick return. Yet Afghans believe strongly that it is imperative to continue to work together and to strengthen this broad partnership until we reach some of our common strategic objectives. It is understandable and advisable to think about an exit strategy once stability is assured in Afghanistan, when regional threats that exist are brought under control and issues such as development and governance activities are sustainable.


Without going back to why the international community has had such a presence in Afghanistan since the 9/11 tragedy, I want to point out that, for many Afghans, Al-Qaeda’s rise and the Taliban takeover of my country in the 1990s could not have happened if a political void had not occurred after the Soviet withdrawal. The noble cause embraced by all of those who helped us defeat the Soviet aggression was unfortunately not followed by post-conflict political and socioeconomic reconstruction. Even though we all know that the Soviet model of intervention in Afghanistan was very different from the current U.S./NATO model of intervention, in Afghan eyes it is clear what that aggression meant then and what this intervention means today.

Neglect of Afghanistan was partly the result of certain strategic blunders and regional realignments that occurred throughout the 1980s, a period that saw the rise of radical Islam as it manifests itself today in various threatening forms. During the 1980s, and especially since the 1990s, when the Soviets left, we had a chance to dismantle or reform the radicalized infrastructure—madrassas, sanctuaries, training camps, and the financing of networks that still exist within our region. All regional actors had a chance to extradite the foreign militants and send them back to their homelands for reeducation.

Unfortunately, none of this was done. The international community walked away, reassured by certain regional powers and actors that the tens of thousands of emboldened Jihadists posed no threat and could be managed locally. I am saying this because these are some of the hard facts and lessons that we must learn from what happened to our region. Between 2002 and 2006, the Taliban were no longer seen as a force to reckon with, and the war on terror (which is no longer a very sexy term to use) was bankrolled with a narrow vision, no strategy to win the peace or rebuild Afghanistan, and little result to show for the billions of dollars that were granted for the dismantlement of the radical infrastructure and sanctuaries in the tribal regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Attention was diverted to Iraq, among other things, and we saw the reemergence of the Taliban and other groups affiliated with them.


I emphasize this past record because we are talking about some serious issues here, and if we do not apply the “lessons learned” concept we may fall into a trap again or follow the wrong recipe. We are talking about reconciliation and reintegration, and the Kabul peace Jirga that recently took place came up with a program that the Afghan representatives have endorsed. But we are all very much aware of the reality, and the Afghan people know the practical limits of such overtures and the kind of criteria that is required to accommodate those Afghans who are not ready to pursue a path of peace. However, the door is now open for Afghans who renounce violence and accept living in our country as peaceful and law-abiding citizens. Afghans do not want to backtrack to the days of oppressive rule. We do not want our country to once again become a safe haven for radicalism or terrorism. Given the remarkable sacrifices and investments made over the past 10 years by the West and others, I do not believe that western societies would accept such a regression. Who wants to see girls barred from schools again? Who wants to see our cultural heritage blown to pieces, or things such as music or traditions banned for the Afghan people?


Two thousand and ten, we believe, is a critical year for this ever-growing multilateral mission. We continue to work to extend the authority and influence of the Afghan government in the less secure areas of the country and enable it by paving the way for better governance and economic development activities, both at the national and subnational levels. During 2010 we also intend to host the Kabul Conference to address the details of funding and aid effectiveness in areas defined in the London Conference earlier in the year. Once again, we are planning to hold elections in Afghanistan, this time legislative elections for the upper and lower houses of Parliament. More than 2,500 Afghan citizens, including almost 400 women, have registered as candidates for these elections. I think that it will be an important milestone, and, if we use the lessons learned from the past election, this process will help us move democracy forward in Afghanistan.

Also in 2010, we will begin to witness the transfer of security duties and responsibilities to Afghan forces under new NATO programs. This transfer will be done on a case-by-case and per-district basis, depending on how the training, mentoring, and other activities relating to the transfer go. This is a key year as the surge moves ahead and we talk about reintegrating certain elements of the armed forces that are in the opposition.

We are very much encouraged by the fact that NATO’s mission under ISAF is more people friendly and “population centric.” As we redefine the counter-insurgency doctrine and tailor it more and more to the conditions and needs of Afghanistan, we discover that counterinsurgency principles, when applied to Afghanistan, differ from those for Iraq, and that, within Afghanistan, we need to keep fine-tuning and adjusting these tactics and measures based on community and local requirements. Marjah is not Kandahar and Kandahar is probably very different from FOB Salerno. From experience, we know that in Afghanistan we need to go deeper at the subnational level to understand what is happening, since the dynamics are very different from north to south, from west to east, and from rural to urban Afghanistan.

Having said that, we are aware that it is too early to evaluate the outcome of the strategy launched with the recent surge. However, there is reason to believe that constant adjustment, recalibration, and fine-tuning will be required to ensure the success of the overarching objectives, which should eventually lay the groundwork for a viable and timely—but not prematurely announced—exit strategy. We have learned that the mission is not military centric. It is not about battles fought in the dirt-poor villages of Afghanistan; it is not about night raids that hurt innocent people. It is now mostly a civil-military process, a comprehensive and nuanced approach using both kinetic and non-kinetic activities to win over the dissatisfied population. On the other hand, it is also about the sanctuaries and other elements that feed an insurgency that, over the past few years, has unfortunately nurtured a two-headed monster that can be seen today on both sides of the tribal divide and that threatens both Pakistan and Afghanistan, its people and its states.


Our challenges are not limited to our state alone. What happens across the tribal divide between Afghanistan and Pakistan? Which insurgent leader is arrested in Karachi or in another city? Who provides the latest version of IEDs? Which Hawala system is used out of the Gulf region to fund the radical structures? How do drug mafias intersect with terror networks and how is the Internet playing a recruitment role? All of these factors are pertinent questions that shape our lives and should keep us concerned.
I would like to submit seven pillars of activities that, in my view and the view of many Afghans, including my government, will require recalibration:

1. Bringing further democratization through a process of involvement and consultation of indigenous leaders and community representatives, through confidence-building measures, protection from retaliation or intimidation, the buildup of credible institutions and capacities in the domains of justice/governance, and a focus on economic development, especially job creation and productivity areas such as agriculture and mining, a sector that in the future is going to be the backbone of the Afghan economy.
2. Boosting synergy and coordination among donors and stakeholders, between Afghans and international donors, and between the Afghan population and its government in order to integrate activities into a more coherent and implementable framework. Of course, the accelerated buildup of better quality—I am stressing better quality, not just numbers but quality—army, police, and other institutions is a cornerstone of such an effort.
3. Promoting public-private partnerships. Over the past nine years, this area has done very well to foster entrepreneurship and boost society activities. A country that seven years ago had only one television channel has more than 20 private television stations today. A country in which there was only one radio station has now hundreds of radio stations in private hands, and so on and so forth. The fact that women now have much more access to economic activities and political activities—all of this has to be sustained in Afghanistan.
4. At the same time, resorting to smart tactics to fight corruption in Afghanistan in an effective manner and the narcotics business is important.
5. Adopting a strategy for the gradual dismantlement of those infrastructures that promote and sustain radicalism and terrorism.
6. Focusing on confidence-building measures. This is very important for regional cooperation on water, which is a key issue, and on power, energy, communications, trade, transit, and people-to-people contacts (as we speak, Afghanistan is laying down its first railroad, which will eventually connect China through Central Asia to Afghanistan to Iran and Pakistan). All of this is to allay fears and misconceptions that exist and have existed for decades.
7. Finally, we will have to address historic disputes at some level by using new thinking, new paradigms, and new mechanisms in order to shift the existing mental state that has put us in a dilemma. In the region as a whole, we need to foster more cooperation and more dialogue and address some of the disputes that affect us directly or indirectly.

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