Rebuilding the Afghan State: The European Union’s Role
Rebuilding the Afghan State: The European Union’s Role
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Afghanistan’s central bank needs its assets back, argues Graeme Smith
Afghanistan’s central bank needs its assets back, argues Graeme Smith
Report 107 / Asia

Rebuilding the Afghan State: The European Union’s Role

Since the Taliban’s fall in 2001, the European Union (EU) has been a major contributor to Afghanistan. A substantial European Commission (EC) delegation oversees an annual budget of some €200 million in development aid, and a Special Representative (EUSR) is in residence.

Executive Summary

Since the Taliban’s fall in 2001, the European Union (EU) has been a major contributor to Afghanistan. A substantial European Commission (EC) delegation oversees an annual budget of some €200 million in development aid, and a Special Representative (EUSR) is in residence. Altogether the EC and member states pledged nearly a third of the money at the 2002 Tokyo and 2004 Berlin donor conferences and the latter contribute over two thirds of the peacekeeping troops as well as Coalition forces battling anti-government insurgents. However EU influence is less than it should be. As a new agenda is drawn up to succeed the Bonn process, the EU needs more internal coordination if it is to gain greater leverage and hold the Afghan government to higher standards of governance and democratic development.

While Europe is widely trusted by Afghans, few – even at high level – appreciate the full scale of EU commitments. This is partly due to the UN’s coordinating role and the sheer scale of U.S. military and development involvement, but also to the complexity of EU foreign policy structures and lack of coherence among EU institutions and member states on and in Afghanistan. Too often development funds are used in place of collective political and military action.

The consequences of insufficient influence and insufficiently forceful policy were nowhere more apparent than during the National Assembly election process, the culmination of the Bonn process. Europe paid around 40 per cent of the costs but failed to secure a satisfactory voting system. Likewise, it did little – and now looks set to do even less – to help build the political parties that are vital to ensure a stable and sustainable political system, despite the avowal of member state foreign ministers that party development is a top priority.

The individual national limitations placed on the peacekeepers provided under a NATO umbrella contribute to lack of inter-operability between forces. The ad hoc manner in which the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has moved outside Kabul highlights this further, with each country-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) a fortress unto itself. Developing at least minimally agreed standards for military-civil cooperation is an area Europe, in concert with NATO, should prioritise. The same is true for coordination within and between the teams – hopefully those of all nationalities, but at the very least for EU member states. A “European” model could not only help strengthen coherence but also influence the wider debate on the role of PRTs.

International interest must not be allowed to lag with the conclusion of the Bonn process – the bedrock of international assistance to date – following the recent National Assembly elections. Gains remain perilously fragile. Even meeting recurring costs to keep the state running will require donor support for years to come. Afghanistan’s social indicators are some of the lowest in the world, on a par with sub-Saharan Africa, and the insurgency in the south and east borderlands with Pakistan produced this year the bloodiest summer since the fall of the Taliban. Poppy cultivation – both a symptom and a major source of ongoing instability – is responsible for 90 per cent of the heroin on the streets of Europe.

The EU role in rebuilding Afghanistan is not about altruism. Failed states are a danger to the world, and Afghanistan presents specific problems for Europe. It is a political project the ultimate aim of which is to bring this failed state back to the fold of nations so that it is no longer a danger. Reassembling the state apparatus has been, and must remain, central but emphasis should now shift from legitimising the newly elected institutions to ensuring their effectiveness in providing services and security to citizens. The new “Kabul Agenda” must emphasise sustainability and be much more specific than the Bonn Agreement about what is to be achieved.

The EUSR needs to be retained but with a refocused mandate. Its good offices are required all the more as new legislators become demanding interlocutors for the international community. At a time when it appears large financial commitments will again be undertaken, the links between performance and payment need to be made more explicit. Europe’s concerns over human rights issues should be translated into hard demands for good governance from an administration that has allowed a culture of impunity.

The EU should strive to produce more cohesive policy and effective action by agreeing both within itself and with the Afghan administration on common benchmarks and monitoring mechanisms. As well as simplifying and clarifying obligations on a fragile state, this would give more coherence to programs and save resources. Europe will punch at its true weight in Afghanistan only through better coordination, and using to maximum effect the full array of foreign policy tools at its disposal – diplomatic, development assistance and military.

Kabul/Brussels, 30 November 2005

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