Event Title: Afghanistan: A Balanced Approach
Sponsor and Location: CSIS
Date: April 16, 2007
Approximate Number of Attendees: 40
Intern Attending: Elysa Severinghaus
Featured Speakers: Bert Koenders, Minister for Development Cooperation
Over the years, the Netherlands has developed a consistent presence in Afghanistan and as their Minister of Development, Bert Koenders, puts it, they have come up with a ‘balanced approach’ to occupying particularly difficult parts of the country. They have integrated diplomatic and development efforts so that one is not lagging behind the other as they attempt to help Afghanistan recover from years under the Taliban.
With the support of the Afghan government, the Afghan people and the international community, citizens are gaining foothold again in the south but despite tremendous progress, security is still very fragile. One of the current risks is interaction with the international drug trade. Statistics show that 90% of drugs in Europe are imported from Afghanistan, making them a ‘poisonous lifeblood’ of the economy. Because of relevant security issues, the forces from the Netherlands has been unable to involve groups outside the Northern Alliance in efforts against the Taliban.
Since the U.S. withdrew its focus from Afghanistan and moved toward Iraq, there has been a distinct power vaccuum, sucking away resources toward rebuilding a nation destroyed by its rebel groups. “What they need,” Koenders said, “is a flexible stabilization force for new visible administration and development.”
Koenders expressed two major concerns with regard to progress in the region. The first was that most of the missions are taken on by ASEF (The Asia-Europe Foundation), which simply does not have the capacity that could be available through the entirety of the U.N. The second major concern is the quantity, quality and visiblity of progress to the Afghan people. While it may be clear to those providing aid that the country is making progress, in order for it to work and gain societal support, evidence of progress must be visible and transparent. To eradicate both these concerns, they must restore public confidence and put Afghan soldiers at the professional level so that citizens can identify with those who are fighting off the ominous ‘bad guy’.
Probably the most crucial point regarding foreign aid is running on an Afghan clock. The Dutch have worked to relate to realities on the ground and not run at an imposed pace. They must continue develop an effective level of commitment, methods of timing and exit strategy because, at least, their development efforts are there for the long haul. In these efforts, the Dutch approach emphasizes the process of reconstruction as a mutually beneficial collaboration between local and international groups. It cannot simply be an imposed international project; they must invest in creating an adequately decentralized government through dialogue and civil assessment. Koenders remarked that the mission would be “As civilian as possible, as military as necessary” and that they would continue to strive to “make the Taliban irrelevant”.