‘NATO, Afghanistan and the Wider Region:


 Given the scale of international investment in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the importance of Central Asia cannot be over-emphasised. The region clearly faces significant difficulties, some of which stem from the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the many problems associated with the transition from a command economy and communism to a market economy and democracy. Mr. Eldon will discuss the role that Nato is playing in Afghanistan and the impact on the wider region with the presence of US & Europe in this region. He will also discuss the issues that have led to the polarisation of the Islamic and western worlds and with the change of US administration whether there are prospects of better relations between the two ideologies.
I thought what I would do  was to talk a little bit about Afghanistan, a little bit about NATO in Afghanistan and a little bit about NATO and go on from there, to just take a look at how I think Afghanistan affects prospects for relations between the West and the Islamic world.I hope it will be helpful because I find a lot of misunderstanding about NATO, what it is, what it does, what it is doing in Afghanistan.
I am currently engaged on Afghanistan. That is what I spend an awful lot of my time on. I myself go to Afghanistan once every six months. I was  last there in February so I have a lot of ground truth I hope I can offer you.
The first thing to talk about is the history of NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan. NATO first went into Afghanistan in 2003 at the request of the United Nations and the government of Afghanistan. One of the first and very important things to say is that the international community and the international effort of which NATO is a part, is not some kind of unilateral adventure. It is done at the request of the government of Afghanistan and it is done with the mandate and authorization of  the UN and the UN Security Council. I think that is really important.
Just to give you an idea of what NATO is  doing. It is there to assist the government of Afghanistan  and the international community in developing the country, in gaining control over its territory and in making sure that Afghanistan can never again become a base for international terrorism.
I was serving in New York on 9/11 and I was involved in the Security Council and General  Assembly resolutions that resulted immediately after that. I know only too well and too personally the impact of what happened that day. It changed the world. And in many ways the UN mission in Afghanistan is a consequence of that change in the world.
NATO started in 2003. It took over from the UN the responsibility for ISAF (the International Security and Assistance Force), initially concentrated on Kabul and ensuring the security of Kabul. Gradually since then, and with the agreement of the Afghan government (I keep coming back to that) and with the approval of the United Nations it has expanded.
In 2007  ISAF was active across all the regions in Afghanistan. It is not present everywhere but it has coverage north, south, east and west and in the capital region.  Now ISAF has about 70,000 NATO troops. The bulk of those are provided by the USA. The UK is second. We currently have about nine thousand soldiers, sailors and airmen there. The British effort  is concentrated in the south, in Helmand which is one of the really difficult areas in Afghanistan. There are other UK resources scattered about. There are some in Kandahar. I am sure you would have seen the television pictures of that Harrier pilot based in Kandahar – and some  in Kabul.
But the main UK effort is centered in Halmand. In Afghanistan the UN supports provincial reconstruction teams and their function is to deliver development and reconstruction working with the Afghan government in the various different areas of the country.
They work in different ways, there are quite a large number of them and how they are organized depends on what the security situation is like. In the north of Afghanistan  it is pretty stable. And one of the interesting things about Afghanistan is that roughly 90 percent of the violence is concentrated in 10 percent of the districts and it affects about six percent of the Afghan population in terms of serious incidents.
But in Halmand the UK  development and reconstruction effort is concentrated in the provincial capital of Nashgagar. That is run very much as a joint civil and military effort and quite unusually for the organization of these things it is headed by a diplomat. One of my colleagues is out there and he oversees that effort and quite rightly he is a civilian because what we are looking at doing is civilian help to the people which  is what this is really all about.
NATO is in a sense only a part of the broader international effort. In some ways the military component of what we are doing in Afghanistan is the least important. There is a broad international effort aimed at supporting the Afghan government, a democratically elected government. There will be elections again in August  so that Afghanistan can become an effective state which is increasingly able to handle its own security and deliver basic services to its people.
The reason I say this is because our own security is at risk if Afghanistan once again becomes a safe haven for terrorists. I have already mentioned 9/11 but you only have to  think about 7/7 to see how the links can reach back in terms of terrorist activity and that is in nobody’s interest.
The other thing I want to say is  I have so far mentioned the USA and the UK but actually we are in Afghanistan with 41 other countries as part of NATO and the European Union. Fifty countries are involved in terms of bilateral contributions and bilateral links. I want to demonstrate the breath of the international effort. There are 28 full members of NATO  and between 48 and 50 contributors to ISAF.  Some of those contributions come from Islamic countries. That is a very important thing to recognize. The UAE, for example, have been involved and they do a lot of extremely good work.
I  have said  that the military bit and therefore the NATO bit is only a small part of the international effort.  Let me give you an illustration. In terms of development, the UK has contributed £740m to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2009. That puts us as the second largest aid donor behind the USA. Believe me, this is aid which is really badly needed. The situation in Afghanistan is terrible in economic and development terms. We are planning to spend an additional £550m in development assistance between now and 2013.
In addition to that there is the stabilization fund. It is an interdepartmental organization in DIFID the FCO and MOD and it is designed to help cope with crisis and difficult situations. It has put in an additional £44m in the current financial year to assist efforts to bring security, governance and development to Afghanistan.
Since 2003 we have invested about £32m in the Afghan National Solidarity Programme.  I played host in Brussels yesterday to the Afghan Rural Development Minister and that supports a network of 23,000 elected community development councils in various districts of Afghanistan and they are now running round about 45,000 projects, designed to improve roads, water, health and education. Most of them are quite small but they are really very important because you are not going to achieve your objective in Afghanistan unless you do down the communities.
It is a really complicated place and we need to think very hard about the lessons in Afghanistan and you won’t succeed there unless you respect local structures, local traditions and try and help local ways of doing things.
We think it is worth this effort and  Afghanistan, as the prime minister has said, is a very important UK priority. There are three reasons really. The first is the international threat of terrorism. I know the linkages people sometimes make between  one man’s view of a terrorist and another man’s view of a freedom fighter – to use an old cliché. But I would urge you to look at this as a straight matter of national security. The fact is that we have a responsibility to protect our own people and there are very clear links between the really unpleasant activities that have taken place here and elsewhere and the unregulated Al Qaeda activity in the unregulated border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  That is the kind  of responsibility we have to protect people here. It is not aggressive in any way but it is something we badly need to do.
The second reason I think it is worth our being there – and that is the whole international community – it is not just ISAF – and that is the destruction that has been caused by the current insurgency in Afghanistan but also by thirty years of war and occupation in one way or another. I have seen it, I have been there and it is not responsible to leave the Afghan people in that kind of state.
I had an interesting chat with President Karzai and others on the margins of the meeting in the Hague  in April just before the NATO summit in Strasbourg and somebody asked him whether Afghanistan was a failed state.  He said Afghanistan was not a failed state – it was a destroyed state because the effect of the last 30 years had been to strip out all the usual and traditional institutions of government and all the usual and traditional public services and that was now being put back together again.  This is an interesting perception in terminology.
There is a big job to be done there and the issues are both material and cultural. There is a really big job to do in terms of the state, the society, the economy, the issues of corruption, the issues of drugs and so on and so forth and in some ways this is the most difficult part of all of this – to get that right.
There has been some progress and I am quite struck whenever I go to Afghanistan and it has been seven times now in this job I always end up feeling more encouraged than when I went the last time. In the media there is always a tendency to concentrate on the bad news. And there is bad news, make no mistake about it, but there is also good news. It is wrong to ignore that. I will just give you a few more examples and quote a few more statistics.
 The first thing is health care. In 2003 nine percent  of Afghans roughly lived in a district that had access to health care. The figure now is somewhere approaching 82 percent. In 2001 there were about one million Afghan children in school very few of them girls. Now the figure is 6.6 million and roughly one third of those are girls.  We have an elected parliament, governance is improving though no one would pretend its perfect. Again 25 percent of the Afghan lower house are women. That actually puts them 25th in the world league of  female parliamentary representation. The UK is number 69 and government departments, and I think this is where president Karzai’s comment of a destroyed state is relevant,  are beginning to operate better than they were. 
The Afgha police are a particular problem everyone acknowledges that but I wish you could sit with him and talk to him. Interior Minister Atma has actually picked up that organization and shaken it and from personal  observation it is interesting to see the progress that has been made since his arrival. So that is another reason I think it is worthwhile.
The third reason I think is worthwhile I would put under the broad heading of narcotics, poverty and corruption.  Now these are all issues that the Afghans will have to sort out for themselves. There is no question of that. We can’t do it for them, it is their country and they have to get to grips with  all of this.  We will try and help them. I am now moving well away from NATO because NATO only does security and defense and security and defense are only small elements of all of these.
I would just say that I think drugs are particularly corrosive. If this goes wrong, if you look at the experience in Columbia it really hits the society.  A few years ago members of the G8 bundled out responsibility for various aspects of work in  Afghanistan and UK took the lead on drugs and narcotics and it is actually really difficult and we have not achieved as much as we would have liked. One of the lessons of this is that counter narcotics work really takes a long time and it is very complex. A lot of it is good governance, a lot of it is justice,  lot of it is giving people who are growing poppies an alternative way of making a living and a really big part of it is making sure that they can get out from under the thumb of the narco traffickers. They are ordinary people just like you and me and if they were given a free choice I don’t think they would be doing this kind of thing.
There is a pretty good Afghan National Drugs Strategy. Again it is an Afghan lead but it has been developed with the help of the G8 and it is really quite important to stick with it. It is a big all embracing strategy. It takes a long time. We are now seeing signs of  this multi pronged approach and you have to set a balance of risk and reward. People have to know that there is a risk to them in growing and dealing with drugs and at the same time they have to see that there is a reward to them for not doing that.
That is starting to work and I think it is really important to stick with the strategy. We are going to have another year of high poppy cultivation. The harvest has just ended but the figures aren’t in. That is pretty desperate.  Two years ago Helmand became the world’s largest producer of opium poppy and the second largest producer of opium poppy was the whole of Afghanistan. And that is not a good situation to be in. People have traditionally grown it there.  Overall the poppy levels are down 20 percent on 2008.
I would put the main challenges down to tackling corruption which is very difficult when dealing with drugs, working with the neighbouring states and getting a handle on precursor chemicals which are needed to actually turn poppy sap into opium and heroin. If you can crack down on that you can crack down on the drugs production.
But NATO is very much in a supporting role here. ISAF helps the Afghan counter narcotics police and the Afghan counter narcotics units. It doesn’t do eradication itself. That is not the right thing for an international force to do. It also supports immediate reconstruction and development in difficult security situations. It administers the PRTs and it can help in spotting corruption.
 But we are not going to succeed without a strong regional approach and that is where we need to bring other states with us. Pakistan is vital.. It is vital for a number of reasons. I was in Birmingham doing another of these events in March with my colleague from Islamabad and it is very clear that stability in Pakistan is vital for a whole host of reasons. In the context of Afghanistan it is vital because of the border areas and historically they have not been a place where anything like the writ of traditional government has ever run.
They are refuges for Al Qaeda, they are a rallying point of the taleban, they are a  refuge for narco laboratories and narco traffickers. It is an important  logistics supply route for Afghanistan. A lot of NATO imports have to come in from Karachi. It is the best way in. We are all watching the situation in Pakistan pretty closely.
One of the key things that are emerging: IDP’s casualties,  and the general unpleasantness of any military campaign one of the things that the SWAT campaign shows is that the Pakistani government have now recognized that this kind of insurgency is more of a threat to themselves or to the country than it is to even Afghanistan. That is really quite important.
There is a lot of work going on between Afghanistan and Pakistan on the military front. There is something  called the trilateral commission where the Afghan military, the Pakistani military and NATO meet together to try and co-ordinate activity across the border. There is a new initiative to try and control the border whereby joint border control points are being established at key points and  operational information can be passed in real time between the three militaries. That is really quite important.
Ultimately the key thing with Pakistan is a good working relationship between the two presidents. You know better than me the way politics works in south Asia. But unless you have that good relationship it is difficult to build the co-operation that is necessarily particularly between Pakistan and Afghanistan in view of historic relationships.
And the good news is that President Karzai and President Zidari get on with each other. I hope that the relationship, and they have both said it publically, will build into more useful co-operation.
But it is not just Pakistan. Afghanistan’s other neighbours are pretty critical too. There are some obvious examples. Drugs is one. The Iranians are very interested in and worried by Afghan drug production and they themselves take a very hard line on illicit drugs. So that is one area where there is a clear community of interest out there.
The same goes for other neighbouring states. If Afghanistan is going to make the most of its economy and trade opportunities it needs commerce with those countries. And that is really something we want to encourage.
Going a little further –  Russia. There was NATO’s difference of opinion with Russia. It is not back to the cold war, I would like to reassure you of that, that is not happening. We have lots of differences with the Russians but one area in which they see eye to eye with us is Afghanistan. And they too have offered logistical support to NATO in keeping the NATO operation up and running in Afghanistan. And the same is happening with countries like the Ukraine.
Last year I went to Moscow and visited a counter narcotics training centre for Afghan policeman and policemen from other countries in the region. And I found myself in a rather surreal situation watching instructors teach Uzbek  policemen how to deal with drugs using Interpol materials on Western computers. And that project is run jointly between NATO and Russia. So there is a real community of interest in this area in working together and clearly terrorism is as important and as big a thing for the Russians as it is for us.
How is this being brought together. It is no secret that the Obama administration has made a real difference.  They conducted an Afghanistan strategy review in the first part of this year. The results of that are now out. The key thing, and it mirrors our thinking in 2007 when we did our own review, is that the civil governments’ development aspects of getting the situation right are as, if not more, important, than the military aspects.
There was a big meeting in the  Hague in April with just over 60 countries around the table talking about Afghanistan. It is early days yet. You may say a big room with 60 people round the table may not achieve much. But actually what it did do was help set the context of US policy and help bring together the international effort. That meeting was chaired by Ki Aida, who is the UN’s special representative in Afghanistan. You will find on web in you are interested in reading it the chairman’s statement. And that is a pretty good summary of a coalescence of an international view. Saudi Arabia was there, a lot of Islamic states were there for the first time round the same table. Iran was there with the United States.
So I actually think there is a coalescence of view, slowly, slowly and I hope that we can find a way of using Afghanistan to try and bring the Western and Islamic view points closer together. And the way I look at this is that there are a number of fundamental shared interests. None of us want terrorism, none of us want a massive narco drugs market. We all have a shared interest in a stable and developing Afghanistan.
But to get there we really need to try and remove some of the misperceptions about what the West and what NATO and the EU is doing is Afghanistan. The first thing is that we are not there unilaterally. The second thing is that this is not a US operation though their contribution is very large. It is an international effort co-ordinated by the UN and in a sense the military dimension is operated by NATO. And NATO operates by consensus. There are 28 allies and you have to get 28 of them to agree if you want to do something.
That isn’t to say that we interfere with operational command  decisions on the ground. We don’t because you have to give a military commander the freedom to do his job. But we do set the political strategy by consensus and there is a healthy debate there. You only have to look at the European press on Afghanistan. Compare and contrast that with the American press and you will get some impression of the differences of opinion in NATO.
The important thing is that we are there to help the Afghans but I just want to emphasise this point – it’s an Afghan lead.
Just to go back to NATO again it is important to have a well trained, properly accountable Afghan army and the same thing with the Afghan police. The army training  has been done up until now by the US bilaterally but  there is a very good chance that next week NATO ministers will institute an Afghan training mission in Afghanistan. So that will become multilateral. And it is going quite well.
The Afghan army now takes part in well over 90 percent of NATO military operations in Afghanistan. That is another thing I just want to tell you about. All of this is not international troops going around doing things on their own. They do them with Afghans. And in just under half those operations the Afghan National Army leads and NATO supports. This is  quite important because it is the Afghans providing their own security. It will take time to build up the Afghan army and the Afghan police to  manage the current situation in Afghanistan: 2013, 2014, 2015. You are talking in terms of those sorts of years.
But it is our hope that very soon the international effort can move away from fighting, if you like, to training and support. And that is an important thing to do.
The other thing to say is that international support is in many ways increasing. I think governments are beginning to understand more and more why all this is important and that includes some Islamic governments and getting that community together will, I hope, build bridges between the Western and Islamic sides.
I do really want to challenge the perception that NATO is anti-Muslim. In many areas where the alliance has had to put troops on the ground it has done so to defend Muslims and that has happened in both Bosnia and Kosovo.
What we are anti is anti terror and we work for the security of our members. In  another part of NATO work there is partnership and outreach and this has started with  Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union and now growing in dialogue with the Mediterranean countries and the Gulf countries and they are interested in establishing relationships with NATO because they are seeing advantage to themselves in doing so. So there is gradual outreach.
But it is really not the case that NATO is anti Muslim and I just note that Turkey is a large and important ally.
The other thing is that  it is not right to suggest that NATO has no interest in a political settlement in Afghanistan. It is one of the things that will have to be addressed by the Afghans and we support, and David Milliband has said this in Oxford, reaching out to the insurgents and dismantling the insurgency by political means. We know the  important of this. It has happened in Malaya and in a slightly different way it has happened in Northern Ireland.
Some people in the insurgency be irreconcilable but I suggest that the vast majority of them will want a future. This has got to be an Afghan lead and it has to be clear that the insurgents who do come over accept the Afghan constitution, abandon violence and are not associated with Al Qaeda.
So in short our strategy, and I talk here both as a NATO ambassador and a British diplomat, is to help the Afghan government to fight the insurgency and  co-opt those who are not irreconcilable. But they have to do this. It is their country.
Finally I just want to say success in Afghanistan means a stable and secure state that is able to suppress violent extremism within its borders and a state that is strong enough as a democracy to overcome the terrorist threat. And I hope that if we can  get this right, and it is difficult, it is a long haul, it is  not right at the moment but it is nearly not as bad as some media reports suggest, – that if we can  get Afghanistan onto the right path it will make a real contribution to the relationship between the West and  Islam because stability in south Asia must be in the interests of everyone and I hope that the experience we are now undertaking in working this through in a number of contexts, whether its Afghanistan or the Middle East will help us to better understand the Muslim world and for them to understand us and our respected values.
 But as David Milliband has said we do have to start from a point of a recognition of difference and there is no single answer  as to how we should each live in cultural terms but there are some universal values we all share and basic human rights that must be observed by every government and every individual. I hope that provides a basis from which we can move forward.

*Stewart Eldon gained a starred First in Electrical Sciences in 1974 at Christ’s College, Cambridge . On joining the Diplomatic Service, he was posted to the United Kingdom Mission to the UN. Mr. Eldon served as Deputy Crisis Manager during the 1990-91 Gulf War, for which he was awarded an OBE. In December 1991 he was seconded to the Cabinet Office, and involved in the aftermath of the Maastricht Treaty and the UK EU Presidency in 1992. Mr. Eldon spent 1993/94 on sabbatical at Harvard University . His research paper on the Impact of new Information Systems on Foreign Ministries was published by Chatham House in London . Mr. Eldon was then posted to the UK Delegation to NATO in Brussels . He worked on European Defence, the enlargement of NATO, and the Alliance ‘s outreach to the East. In September 1997, as FCO Director (Conferences), he handled the organisation of the four major Summit Conferences held in the UK between October 1997 and June 1998.In September 1998. Mr Eldon was appointed Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York . He was made a CMG in 1999.After leaving the UN in September 2002; Mr. Eldon spent three months at Yale University . His work there on East Timor (on which he was personally involved at the UN) forms part of a book on the UN Security Council published by the International Peace Academy in New York . Mr. Eldon was appointed British Ambassador to Ireland in April 2003. He took up post at NATO in August 2006.  

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