x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Voices on Afghanistan: Differences in strategy and poor regional cooperation

Confusion over the Nato mission objectives in Afghanistan and a lack of unified strategy created a situation where there were few clear achievements, said Kamal Alam

Residents watch as SSG Thomas Taylor and other soldiers from the US Army's 4th squadron 2nd Cavalry Regiment patrol through a village with soldiers from the Afghan National Army (ANA) on March 1, 2014 near Kandahar, Afghanistan. Scott Olson/Getty Images
Residents watch as SSG Thomas Taylor and other soldiers from the US Army's 4th squadron 2nd Cavalry Regiment patrol through a village with soldiers from the Afghan National Army (ANA) on March 1, 2014 near Kandahar, Afghanistan. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Differences in strategy on the part of Nato countries and poor cooperation with regional partners impeded the reconstruction process in war-torn Afghanistan, said Kamal Alam, a London-based senior fellow for Middle East Regional Defence and Security Issues at The Institute for Statecraft. Mr Alam has also advised the British Army on Afghanistan. Follow him on Twitter: @arikemal

There are major differences in the Nato alliance.

The Europeans were focused on reconstruction. The Americans had focused on getting people out of power.

The former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the former vice president Dick Cheney knew that reconstruction couldn’t be done because while they were with previous US administrations, during the height of American involvement in Soviet occupied Afghanistan, they learnt that spreading out of Kabul is impossible: the Afghans do not like reconstruction that comes in the shape of foreign trainers and foreign ideas.

Mr Rumsfeld was clear in the beginning the Americans do not want to get bogged down in reconstruction – also the realistic idea was to fight Al Qaeda and go after the Taliban.

It was European pressure that forced the Americans to start reconstruction. How can one do reconstruction when bombs, IEDS, ambushes are happening left right and centre? There has to be total peace before there can be a proper reconstruction. Mr Rumsfeld and Mr Bush understood that America had basically stepped into a two-decade-old civil war.

So, for the Americans reconstruction came as an afterthought.

Over the past 10 years that has been one of the main problems. Every country had their own way of doing nation building in Afghanistan.

There was confusion over the mission objective. There was terrorism, anti-narcotics, development and reconstruction and counter insurgency.

In the past two years, the West’s been talking to the Taliban. It kind of defeats everything that’s been done because the whole point was to fight the Taliban.

The Afghans who support reconstruction are let down. There was confusion over what was meant to happen.

Despite that, you can argue there has been some small success in small corners of Afghanistan. Education has been very much the biggest winner, not just for women but also for men. Before 2001, there was

very little education even for men. That’s been done well in different parts of the country. At a local district level there are some good projects and more than anything in education and media.

Afghanistan, in terms of media, was brought into the 21st century.

Before the invasion it was in the 17th or 18th century. Even within the region Afghanistan was 150 years behind. Now, there are private television channels in different languages. The average Afghan has a better awareness of what is happening in the region and the world. So there’s been the reconstruction of the media and the schools.

Other than that I don’t think anything has worked.

What the West has achieved with the army and police is hugely exaggerated. There is a lot of corruption in the construction projects.

What happens to these efforts if the Taliban return? I don’t think that the Taliban will be against women’s education. The West’s intervention has forced the Taliban to evolve since 2001. Even in Syria and Iraq, you see even very extreme Islamist groups using modern media. They use Facebook and Twitter a lot. They are coming out with really high quality DVDs. They probably won’t role back the media as much as some people might fear because they know that this is how the modern world works.

The fear with the Taliban is security, and them taking the country back by arms.

Reconstruction efforts suffered due to the West’s poor understanding of local culture and lack of cooperation with regional countries.

British General Sir David Richards was someone who tried to link the West with the regional efforts. He tried to work with Pakistan and the Turks, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

But these were an isolated effort.

The individual countries could coordinate but there was not a unified strategy.

On paper there was, but on the ground it was different.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae