The Afghan Experience
© 2006 FrontLine Defence (Vol 3, No 4)

I would like to share the Afghan view about relevant issues that face our joint mission in Afghanistan.

It is necessary to hear all sides in such situations, especially when the public, the pundits, the policy gurus, the commentators and the decision-makers all need and deserve the highest level of openness and transparency about strategy, rules, multilateral agreements and rules of engagement in peace-building and reconstruction operations from those who are frontline activists. As you well know, this mission has proven to be not only critical, but also hazardous.

Let me also pay tribute to the men and women of your armed and civilian forces, the NGOs and citizens of all the nations – whose courage and dedication to help us is commendable. Afghans will always honor the memories of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and we thank those who continue to serve a very noble cause that binds all of us.

(Photo: Sgt Jerry Kean)

Obviously, as is always the case, there is no uniformity in understanding or support of this type of mission. There are different opinions, agendas, political motivations and beliefs concerning the merits and rationale of such endeavors. Opinion polls will fluctuate over time, but no one can deny the fact that despite the doubts and difficulties, Afghans are liberated, free to exercise their basic rights, free to determine their destiny, free to send their children to school when not attacked. They are the owners of a young democracy and a vibrant free press, and are hopeful about their future – as demonstrated by every poll taken over the past five years or so. More than four million Afghans voluntarily returned to their homeland since 2001, accepting very harsh conditions to rebuild their lives. More than five million boys and girls have access to ­education – even though the enemy’s goal is to burn schools, kill teachers and propagate ignorance. More than 8 million men and women braved the threats and went to the polls twice in the past two years.

I will not simply list the achievements since the Bonn Accords and paint a rosy picture for you. As many FrontLine readers well know, we face major challenges on many fronts, and can expect a stressful period ahead. This, hopefully, means maximum and unwavering engagement by all of our partners and stakeholders. Besides the terrorists’ attempt at creating panic and destabilizing the country once again – with the aim of turning it into an extremist-terrorist sanctuary – we also have disgruntled segments of society, struggling institutions, some of the lowest socio-economic indicators in the world, high unemployment, a drug and corruption-infested administration, low capacity to manage administrative affairs and deliver basic services, heightened expectations, and little in the way of visible results from the billions of dollars that have been disbursed thus far through Afghan and mostly non-Afghan channels.

12 June 2006 – Brigadier-General David Fraser, Regional Command South Commander, watches as District Leader Ubaidullah Papal and Afghan National Army 205 Core Commander, General Rahmatullah Rawoofi, cut the red tape for the opening of FOB Martello, located in the Shah Wali Kot Region Afghanistan, north of Kandahar Airfield. The CF contribution in Afghanistan comprises about 2,200 soldiers. (Photo: Corporal Robin Mugridge, TFA Roto 1)

On the surface, it seems that the security situation is deteriorating across the country. Fortunately that is not the case across Afghanistan, but it is the case in certain pockets where a resurgent rag-tag army of former and new Taliban, backed by Al Qaida, are making a concerted effort to fan the fires of their so-called holy war from bases inside and outside Afghanistan. They intend to demoralize and intimidate the Afghan population, sowing the seeds of doubt and disillusionment in the troop-contributing countries in order to influence public opinion and political debate. To accomplish these goals, they are forging ties with Iraq-based elements, forging new alliances of convenience with select druglords and anti-government warlords. They are also recruiting among the disenchanted inside the country and from the regional extremist-terrorist circles, they are recipients of drug proceeds and other sources of funding, and worst of all, are openly advocating a Taliban-style system of governance on both sides of the tribal divide between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

You can be certain of one fact: The Afghans do not want to turn the clock back to once again live under the spell of a fanatic, repressive and misogynist regime that has deviated from mainstream, moderate Islamic and Afghan cultural norms.

There are so-called experts and pundits nowadays, with misleading theories expressed under the banner of peace and reconciliation, calling on Western countries, including Canada, NOT to take sides in what they falsely describe as a civil war or an occupation. They preach that the solution lies in striking a deal with unsavory criminals such as Hekmatyar and Mullah Omar to end the conflict. How much more absurd can this reasoning be?

Let me be very clear. The conflict is not the making of the Afghan people or its government.

As they are attempting in Iraq, the spoilers and the al-Qaida-Taliban apologists will use every tactic to instigate civil strife. They do not discriminate between your troops or diplomats, Afghan policemen, Turkish engineers, Indian road builders, Afghan nurses and teachers, or young interpreters.
They strike randomly and opportunistically at soft and hard targets. That is why we have to protect the vulnerable while we deny them a foothold in the wider region. And what do they offer in return? Misery and a nightmarish existence, as exemplified by Afghanistan in the late 1990s before 2002.

As long as we fail to address the complex regional roots of the problem, and as long as we fail to adequately address the priority concerns and needs of the Afghans, my people’s yearning to live in peace, make progress and prosper will be difficult to materialize. This in turn will be detrimental for regional stability and co-operation, and will surely pose a major threat to global security.

Capt Kevin Schamuhn, 1 Victoria’s Patricia’s (1VP) A-Coy, is standing guard in a market just out side of Kandahar City while ANA troops buy supplies from the locals before the trip to Forward Operating Base Martello. FOB Martello has just opened in the district to help suppress the Taliban presence and to provide support not only to the local villages but the local Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army elements in the area.

On the other hand, let me also remind you that the door is wide open for Afghan insurgents whose names do not appear on criminal and terrorist rosters, to lay down their arms, disavow their past allegiances and join the caravan of peace and reconstruction in their country. Thousands have joined, and we need to do more to enable others to join this movement as part of the amnesty programs in place.

Success in Afghanistan will not be complete unless we continue to invest adequately in rebuilding the administration, civil and military institutions, the judiciary, professional capacity and, in particular, by starting the reconstruction and development processes in earnest – that is 3D plus.

The Afghan people have been patient with us and have shown understanding. I am not sure how much longer they can tolerate this pace while they are squeezed on one side by few opportunities, weak rule of law and governance practices, and on the other by a resurgent wave of violence. I remain highly optimistic though that we will overcome this sensitive and precarious transition. The elected government of President Hamed Karzai has made every effort to identify the priority concerns, adopt a national strategy, as enunciated in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, which became part of the Afghanistan Compact signed at the London Conference with more than 60 donors in January of this year.

Here are some ideas that may help improve aid effectiveness and delivery on the 3D front if we work together:

  • avoid actions that may or seem to undermine the sovereignty of Afghans and their elected government.
  • protect civilians and adopt further measures to build trust and confidence, or as some say, win hearts and minds.
  • accelerate the training of the national army and police based on higher standards and better equipment.
  • focus on building up capacities, skills and institutions that work.
  • fight poppy crops through rural development, alternative crops and livelihood programs, and by helping farmers fight forced indebtedness.
  • launch job-creating public investment projects to build infrastructure in the energy, irrigation/water management, agriculture and communications sectors.
  • promote fair regional trade practices and help exploit Afghan natural resources to boost domestic revenues.
  • reform and keep the civil service afloat as an ally, by offering merit-based incentives.
  • fight corruption with law enforcement by reforming the justice system.
  • improve the quality, training and facilities of the public health sector.

Obviously this wish list can contain many more items. However, we need to offer prioritized pragmatic and effective solutions. While we work on stability, the creation of a viable state and functioning economy will do part of the job, save lives and resources otherwise squandered. The window of opportunity is not open forever. Benchmarks need to be met through a joint coordination and monitoring mechanism that brings the Afghans and major donors together. Strong and focused leadership backed by a national political consensus that unites rather than divides is a prerequisite for success.

It is with that vision that Afghans will have to deal with the challenges that face them and their international partners whose continued commitment and engagement is so vital in the near and longer term timeframe to successfully accomplish this mission.

His Excellency Omar SAMAD is Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Canada. This article includes remarks he presented at a recent Queen’s University conference.
© FrontLine Defence 2006