Afghanistan: Policy Adjustments or Withdrawal?

06 November 2008
Article
This policy paper examines the lessons from and for Afghanistan, arguing for an "overall strategy", a primarily political solution to the conflict, an emphasis on state-building, and addressing the real (and not distorted) linkages between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Today, German and international policy towards Afghanistan is dominated by scepticism and disillusionment, which have supplanted the – often naïve – optimism of the early days. Since the international military and civilian presence in Afghanistan began more than seven years ago, the geographical parameters of the military operation – which at first was confined to Kabul and surrounding areas – as well as the force strength and the initially very limited timeframe for the mission have steadily expanded.

Nonetheless, the political situation remains highly volatile and has deteriorated in many areas. Since 2003, there has been a steady increase in the level of violence and a noticeable worsening of the security situation, both for the Afghan population and the international forces. The dramatic increase in the number of suicide attacks – a completely new phenomenon in Afghanistan – is just one indication of the critical escalation of the situation.

In the US, a serious debate is now under way about the option of redeploying forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, and it is only the equally difficult situation in Iraq itself which has so far prevented this from happening. In Germany, there are increasingly vocal calls, across all political parties, for an „overall strategy“ for Afghanistan, while the problems facing that country are prompting a more general debate about the purpose, rationale, opportunities and limits to the involvement of the Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) in military operations abroad. This debate is indeed urgently needed, but will not be conducted in this paper.

Equally important, however, is a proper analysis of the origins of the current crisis in Afghanistan, which increasingly appears to be at an impasse. Such an analysis is essential if appropriate policy adjustments are to be made. This policy paper will therefore examine the lessons from and for Afghanistan, with a focus on the following four key areas: the need for an „overall strategy“ and the role of decision-making on military operations abroad; the problem that the war in Afghanistan is primarily a political conflict which requires a political solution, whereas the political and public debate is focussed primarily on military intervention; the paradox that state-building should be a priority in efforts to resolve the situation but has largely been ignored so far, notably in relation to the intermediate and especially the lower tiers of government which will be decisive in the long term; and the failure to address – as well as the distorted perceptions of – the linkage between the war in Afghanistan and the situation in neighbouring Pakistan.

Download PDF