The security situation in Afghanistan, as a whole, continues to deteriorate. The Taliban now exercise almost complete control of the countryside in the south. The rural communities living in the south are left alone with no functional Afghan institutions or state to protect them from the increasingly violent confrontations between the Taliban insurgency, on the one hand, and the international coalition on the other.
The situation around Kabul is more complex, and there have been a few positive developments. The road to the south is more secure than it was a few months ago and the French had a tactical success in the Sarobi district in March 2009 - unfortunately an isolated win on the national grid.
Most worryingly, the Taliban are increasingly entrenched in the north of Afghanistan, once considered an insurgency-free area. Although they are still few in number, the Taliban operate efficiently in launching targeted attacks against Afghan security forces. The passivity of the international coalition forces in the north, particularly the German troops in face of this building insurgency is worrying, considering that it poses a major strategic threat to the overall success of international efforts in Afghanistan.
There are encouraging elements to be found in the Obama administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan and the surrounding region. The strategy promises more resources, more money, better reinforcements, and the promotion of a civilian surge. The newly-created position of Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan will allow for an additional dimension of international engagement in the region and redefines what the goals of the war should be.
However, when considered as a whole, this supposedly ‘new’ strategy amounts to little more than recycled policy from the late Bush years; it is a waiting strategy without any credible long-term objectives. Unfortunately, those who have so far a clear, well coordinated, and coherent strategy are the Taliban.
The idea of refocusing attention towards Pakistan is misguided. The Pakistani government has no influence in the Swat valley region and faces the constant threat of destabilisation by armed groups. Besides sending money and training to the Pakistani army to fight counterinsurgency, international actors are powerless to influence the state. It is crucial to focus immediate attention on Afghanistan; Pakistan can be negotiated with once it has been secured, and not vice-versa.
There is a role for the EU and member states in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, but current policy approaches have failed to adequately analyse the situation and devise appropriate responses. Establishing the authority of the Afghan police will bolster the state against the threat of insurgency, provide a crucial sense of security to Afghan people, and it is an area where European states can actively help. Corruption and personal bias are rampant in the judicial system in Afghanistan and any efforts to foster dialogue and cooperation between international actors and the judiciary are to be welcomed.
Ultimately, the EU and member states should focus less upon troop numbers, quotas, and aid, and should instead investigate whether the caveats of those already working on the ground in Afghanistan could be improved to allow for more robust forms of engagement in counterterrorism and reconstruction efforts.
This piece originally appeared in France 24.