Nation building key in Afghanistan

Nato special civilian envoy says a more unified international approach is required.

Everts, Nato’s civilian envoy, ends his mission in Afghanistan
this month after 16 months in the country [Nato website]

Daan Everts, the special civilian representative of Jaap de Hoop Schaeffer, the Nato secretary-general, concludes his mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2007 after 16 months in the country.

In the first of a two-part interview with Al Jazeera a few days before demitting office, Everts says the international community’s involvement in Afghanistan has been marked by inefficiency and a fragmented approach to development and reconstruction.

He believes strengthening the Kabul government and earning the trust of the Afghan people are keys to ensuring stability in the war-ravaged country.

Al Jazeera: In your assessment, how has the situation in Afghanistan changed in the past few years?

Everts: There is a better recognition of the complexity of the tasks and of the challenges. The notion of approaching these challenges comprehensively, that has dawned finally on everybody. It’s a bit late, but it has happened. So the civilian and military efforts are finally seen to be intricately linked – you cannot have separate track approaches. It doesn’t work. It still needs to progress, but the awareness has increased.

The other notions I have seen improve over my one and a half years is the concept of “Afghanisation”. I have been pushing this from the start. The idea of Afghan first; the Afghan face, and the [concept of] Afghan ownership have become pretty much accepted.

The third is that since military efforts alone will not do the job, there is more interest in [the] non-military approaches to settling the conflict. Political outreach and reconciliation has gained weight – which I welcome.

But what I mentioned as gains [came] after a lot of lost time. I think the efficiency of international efforts can be greatly enhanced. When I speak of Afghan ownership, there is an implicit criticism of donor-driven activities. The problem is that we have started with very little emphasis on nation building and development. Only over time have we realised this is key and that we have to heavily invest in governance, development, in reconstruction besides security.

So we start from a light footprint to a heavier one. If we had done it the other way around it would have been much more effective. We would have been much further ahead and could have lessened the footprint. This has also resulted in a very incremental approach to the whole of Afghanistan and basically partitioning Afghanistan into lots … that were apportioned to the various donor countries.

So you have a little “German Afghanistan” in the North, an “Italian Afghanistan” in the west, “Dutch Afghanistan” in Uruzgan and a “Canadian Afghanistan” in Kandahar and so on.

Geographically we have been fractured, but also sectorally with equal ineffectiveness – like giving the justice sector totally to the Italians, counter narcotics to the British, the police to Germans, anti-terrorism to Americans – very fractured and that’s why we have the problems with the police and the justice sector – its only now, six years later, that it’s being forcefully addressed.

What are the other impacts of this “balkanisation”?

Well, we have these individual donor capital approaches to common problems like counter narcotics or governance or police or corruption but also infrastructure, agriculture … you name it.

There is no unity of analysis or effort because it is so fractured and it must lead … to inefficiency. It also leads to great inequality, particularly between provinces, as you have poor, under-endowed provinces like Ghor or Daikundi where hardly anyone wanted to volunteer and you have over-endowed provinces where there are vast American or British aid programmes available or Uruzgan under the Dutch – so we have promoted inequality.

This fragmentation is a basic defect that we did not recognise enough in 2001. The other key one is the light footprint – if you opt for a light footprint, you cannot be leaning too heavily on the government, so I have seen in my time a certain reticence or timidity to interfere … leaving it to some individual countries to throw their weight around.

Internationally we have a rather soft UN presence – there was not an international factor here that was prominently present and leaning on the government where it was required like for instance on the issue of corruption or the rule of law … that may change but … the Afghans have now become used to a rather soft international presence.

You had mentioned earlier that after 2001 the emphasis was on pursuing al-Qaeda and Taliban and not on stabilisation of Afghanistan. Could you elaborate on that?

That is part of the light footprint – the main emphasis was on anti-terrorism which was the American concern, understandably so. But there was little interest to take on the critical challenges of nation building and that was, of course, supported ironically by the UN which did not pursue a large presence here because it would not fit the concept of national sovereignty.

Then, of course, the whole thing was further set back by Iraq – sad but true, it has sucked the oxygen away from Afghanistan.

You have said that the resources being put into this country are less than in other areas, for example Kosovo.

In comparative terms our efforts are pretty stingy. I am concerned about the aid both in terms of quantity and quality. There is of course an issue of absorption capacity but I think we are still relying much too much on outside sources of supplies and of expertise.

It has been a bonanza for consultants, serious consultants, half-baked consultants, marginal consultants, mail boxes consultants – as well as other service providers. There has been an outflow of resources from Afghans.

This is very depressing to see – and it makes [Afghans] cynical. Because of this, probably, 40 per cent of Afghanistan aid is flowing out. So there is this aid industry that descends on a poor nation and runs away with part of the loot, to put it bluntly and with some exaggeration. Of course, there are many bona fide actors, including NGOs.

Three-fourths of the aid is being spent through the external budget, so the Afghan government can hardly be blamed.

Yes, it’s a bit of the chicken and egg [situation]. The foreigners create their own channels outside the central government because it is weak, but you keep the central government weak by not going through it – it’s a vicious circle. It’s not good. The old saying “it’s better to have the host country do things imperfectly than the outside doing things perfectly” of course holds true.

What improvements would be crucial for this country in the next few years?

A better more unified international presence here that is speaking with a clearer and more  unequivocal voice and a government that is more serious about problems and firm in tackling those diseases that are discrediting and undermining its authority such as corruption and related to it counter narcotics and poor law enforcement.

That is where a qualitative change is needed. Without credibility among people it will be very difficult to make progress. Also, in terms of discouraging insurgency and anti-government elements. The only caveat to be made here that we should not demand too much in too little time.

There is talk now of your job and that of Tom Koenigs [the UN secretary -general’s special representative to Afghanistan who is also concluding his tenure this month] being amalgamated into one. How do you view that?

That we have more of an organic link between Nato, UN and possibly the EU – that, I think, is certainly desirable. How exactly to give it form, is not clear. The UN has a problem in being directly related to Nato – obviously we are a regional defence organisation and there are members in the UN that may not want it.

Also, Nato cannot be seen as a simple sub-organisation of the UN. I cannot see a special envoy of the UN secretary-general being in command of forces. We have to find a very special arrangement where, at the least, constant consultation and exchange of information is guaranteed. I am in favour of linking the posts – not merging, but linking.

Source : Al Jazeera


More from News
Most Read