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Event report --- The Future of Afghanistan​

6 October 2016

Opening the panel discussion Fraser Cameron, Director of the EU-Asia Centre, said that it was a timely moment, ahead of the major donor conference, to review the political, economic, and security situation in Afghanistan.

Julian Wilson, Acting Deputy Managing Director, EEAS, outlined the conference aims and said that while both sides faced significant challenges the EU and the international community was committed to continuing to help Afghanistan.

The conference would endorse a realistic programme of reforms to support political and economic stability, state-building and development over the coming four years. The Afghan government had been a reliable partner but there were still economic and security challenges while delivery of basic services remained low. More should be done to tackle corruption and the problems associated with migration. Afghans had to be shown a viable alternative to the gun.

Nader Nadery, Senior Advisor to the President of Afghanistan, highlighted the various achievements of the government while admitting there remained several challenges. Political stability had improved since the 2014 elections. The security situation was still fragile with no less than seven terrorist organisations active in the country. But the Afghan security services were now largely in control and citiziens were proud of the army. The economy had been growing well but there had been a reduction in growth this year.

It was important to continue the drive towards better governance and ensure the institutions responded to the wishes of the people. There had been improvements in the judiciary and a fresh anti-corruption campaign was underway. The government was not afraid to admit and discuss the problems it faced. The support of the international community was very much appreciated and would help boost reforms eg in agriculture and mining.

The sanctuaries of the Taliban/terrorists in Pakistan remained a major problem and needed to be addressed. China was playing a more active and constructive role in terms of investment and security support.

Tony Wayne, ex-DCM of US mission in Afghanistan, Senior Fellow, CSIS, Washington DC, argued that we were facing a global and generational struggle against extremism, not just in Afghanistan. The US government was a faithful partner for Afghanistan and he expected this would remain the case after the US elections. But public support could not be taken for granted.

There was a huge problem in finding jobs for young people and as the World Bank August report had shown there would need to be an emphasis on vocational training in order to stem migration.

Looking back over the past decade the results had been mixed. There had been some very amazing improvements in social and economic indicators, but efforts to achieve peace had not borne sufficient fruit.  He agreed that Pakistan’s role was not always helpful.

Any longer-term engagement should be conditional on continued improvements in the political and security situation. Afghanistan should become a pillar in the global campaign against terrorism and violent extremism. Donors and western publics needed to receive clear messages and signs of progress, not a welter of plans, no matter how good they may be in and of themselves.

The operational goal in the short term should be an Afghanistan increasingly capable of handling its security challenges and governance duties with only modest foreign help.  In the longer term, Afghanistan’s partners are looking for a peaceful, prosperous and better-governed country that contributes to regional security.

Nicole Baritsch, Senior Fellow, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Germany, said that the government crisis was not resolved and the political paralysis often extended to regional administrations. There seemed a disconnect between the leadership elites and the population. The refugee crisis was increasing not decreasing with some estimates of over one million internally displaced persons by the end of the year. The government needed a new social compact with the citizens and it needed to reach out to moderate factions of the Taliban.

Rob Hendriks, Senior Fellow, Clingendael, from the Netherlands, also admired the progress of recent years especially the 2014 elections which had been free and fair. But a window of opportunity had been lost to build a more inclusive government. The Afghans were also becoming better at their own security after the withdrawal of ISAF forces. But the government needed to reduce army numbers from 360,000 to around 200,000 and the question was what to do with those who would leave the army? There was a need for greater involvement of women and youth in society. Education was key. On the economic side there was considerable potential from the new hydro schemes being established.

Fraser Cameron concluded by saying that despite the many challenges facing Afghanistan there were rays of hope and the international community should maintain its support for the country, albeit with conditions.