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The CFSP in Action - Afghanistan


Located at the crossroads of central and south Asia, Afghanistan is a landlocked country with a bloody history. It endured a brutal civil war after the collapse of the Soviet-backed government in 1992 (itself a result of the 1979 Soviet invasion) and then from 1994 the authoritarian Islamicist movement - the Taliban - began to take control of the country. The Taliban government was overthrown by a US-led international military force after the al-Qaeda sponsored attacks on the United States of September 11 2001 because it refused to stop sheltering al-Qaeda’s leadership. Afghanistan matters to Europeans, both as EU and NATO members, because of its importance in the fight against Islamicist inspired terrorism, as the source of 92 per cent of the world’s heroin and last but not least, as a test for the future of western military intervention, and of NATO itself, in support of vital security objectives.

Since 2001 the EU has played a major role in rebuilding the civic, economic, health and justice institutions and capabilities of Afghanistan as its second largest international donor after the United States. In co-operation with other international partners, it has taken the percentage of Afghans with access to primary health care from 7 per cent in 2001 to 80 per cent today and increased school enrolments by 74 per cent over the same period. The EU has been a heavy investor in the civil and justice machinery of the country, as well as paying for the rebuilding of much critical economic infrastructure. In June 2007 the EU launched a further mission to Afghanistan in order to raise the standard of policing there in conjunction with wider efforts to embed the rule of law.

Supporting Reconstruction

The EU has provided over €3 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since 2002 (the US has provided $6.9 billion and Japan $1.2 billion). About €627 million has been spent by the EU on humanitarian aid and assistance to deal with the consequences of war, civil strife, famine and other hardship. Larger sums have been spent on longer-term projects designed to revive the Afghan economy and rebuild its social infrastructure.

Amongst many projects, EU funds have paid for the rebuilding of the Kabul to Jalalabad road, the improvement of healthcare, rural development and de-mining. This programme of work continues with greater emphasis in recent times on supporting improvements in civic society and justice systems.

Political & Civic Reconstruction

Afghanistan was a country not only without a functioning government by early 2002 but also without the infrastructure to create one. It was necessary for a political process to begin that could enable the construction of new political institutions. The UN sponsored talks in Bonn in December 2001 between the various Afghan factions that led to agreement on elections and preparations for a new constitution. The first elections took place in December 2004 when Hamid Karzai was elected President; parliamentary elections followed in September 2005. A national government based on the Parliament took office the following year.

The EU appointed a Special Representative to Afghanistan in 2001 (the current post holder is Mr Francesc Vendrell), who leads the development of the EU’s CFSP/EDSP policies towards Afghanistan by working with the country’s political leaders and its neighbours, and opened an office there in February 2002.

EU support to the political process included paying half the cost of the 2004 Presidential elections and about 40 per cent of the cost of the parliamentary elections the following year. It also provided expert observer missions to ensure that the elections were fairly conducted in a country with no tradition of multi-party democracy.

Resources have been used to support the creation of law and order institutions that are fit for purpose and which work within a rule of law environment. The EU is a major contributor to the international fund which pays for the Afghan police and has a mission in the country to assist the creation of an independent and impartial judicial system.

Maintaining Security

Two international security operations continue in Afghanistan. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force works under a UN mandate to assist the Afghan authorities in maintaining security. By April 2007, 25 of the EU’s 27 Member States were contributing about half of ISAF’s total force of 34,000 personnel. The UK is the second largest contributor (after the US); other major contributors to ISAF include France and Germany. The effectiveness of ISAF has been undermined by difficulties over the provision of adequate air support and equipment and the limitations placed by some countries on the use of their forces (but these are matters for NATO and not the EU).

The second security operation, Operation Enduring Freedom, is the US-led mission involved in counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaeda. Five of the fourteen nations, including the UK, France, the Netherlands and Poland, participating in this operation are EU Member States. Although the early stages of this operation saw the closure of terrorist training camps and the capture of key al-Qaeda personnel, al-Qaeda continues to operate within Afghanistan. The overall security situation remains very difficult and this is likely to be an on-going problem.

While the EU is not directly involved in the military operations, its work in civil and political reconstruction is an essential complement.

EU Police Mission

Launched in June 2007, the EU Police Mission (which comes under auspices of the European Defence & Security Policy of the EU) is intended to build on the work of the previously German-led police project office. This had trained substantial numbers of Afghan police officers in modern policing techniques and principles. Expected to operate for three years, the EU police mission has deployed around 160 officers to the country to lead training teams or to work as part of the provincial reconstruction teams already set up by the international community.

The Drugs Problem

The EU plays a significant role in co-ordinating the fight against illegal drugs in Afghanistan – with the UK the lead nation. Although considerable EU resources have been devoted to this task - notably in rural areas to encourage the cultivation of alternative crops - disagreement in the international community about how to eradicate opium poppy growing has hampered progress. The evidence does suggest that opium production has increased rather than reduced in recent years. The failure of the international community to tackle this problem is a major setback

There are differing views about whether the opium poppies should be destroyed on the ground or whether it is better to offer farmers financial and other incentives to switch crops. Although 13 of the 34 provinces are now poppy free, the absence of security in the south and east has led to a massive increase in total production, not least because the Taliban encourages opium poppy growing in order to pay for its military operations.

Future Developments

EU-Afghan relations are governed by a Joint Declaration between the EU and Afghanistan agreed in 2005 and by preferential trade terms that the EU has granted to Afghanistan in order to boost the Afghan economy. The EU’s relationship forms part of the wider international community’s relationship with Afghanistan through the agreement known as the Afghanistan Compact, reached in 2006. This sets out how the international community will work with the Afghanistan Government for the five years until the end of 2010.

The Compact covers the main areas of concern: security; governance, the rule of law and human rights; economic and social development; and the fight against illegal drugs. The EU contributes to the development of Afghanistan in the last three of those areas – but particularly the second - and several of its Member States make a major contribution to the first issue – that of improving security.

November 2007

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