Representatives of North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states met March 11 to discuss ways to invigorate Afghanistan's reconstruction process. An area that NATO planners are focusing on is increasing the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, or PRTs.
NATO has headed the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul since last August. During the March 11 meeting, officials discussed ways to improve cooperation and efficiency in providing reconstruction assistance. NATO officials have admitted that reconstruction efforts have been hampered in recent months by a lack of resources, including a shortage of helicopters.
In pre-meeting comments to journalists, US Gen. James Jones, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, indicated that the resource shortage had been resolved. At the same time, he stressed that member states would have to increase their commitments of troops and equipment for NATO to realize its goal of expanding the PRT program.
At present, there are roughly 12 PRTs operating in Afghanistan's provinces, most of them relatively small in scale. NATO planners are seeking to add up to six PRTs by June, when the country is tentatively scheduled to hold elections. Citing organizational difficulties and a general lack of security, many international experts and governmental bodies, most notably the European Union, have called for a postponement of the elections. Despite the mounting opposition, the Bush administration remains committed to the June timetable. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Expanding the number of PRTs would require a concomitant rise in the number of NATO troops deployed in Afghan regions, Jones said.
EurasiaNet contributor Abubaker Saddique recently spoke to Hikmet Cetin -- a former Turkish foreign minister, who now serves as NATO's senior civilian representative in Afghanistan -- about the Atlantic Alliance's reconstruction priorities. Cetin emphasized that promoting security in Afghanistan is NATO's "first priority." He went on to characterize NATO's "progressive expansion" into Afghan provinces as "an essential requirement" for promoting greater security. The full text of Cetin's comments follows:
EurasiaNet: What is your reaction to calls to postpone the Afghan elections now scheduled for June? Cetin: Well, it is up to the Afghan Transitional Authority (ATA) to decide about the election process. It seems that there are two prerequisites for holding the elections: First, is the completion of the electoral registration process of millions of voters across the country. This is a major challenge for the Afghan Government and the international community. ... Secondly, providing a secure environment is of paramount importance during the registration [period] and during the elections. This is a challenging job. Upon the request of the Afghan government, NATO and the [US-led military] Coalition Forces together with the international community are prepared to address this. ... Holding the elections in a timely fashion is certainly very important. Of course, the Afghan authorities will have to take the final decision.
EurasiaNet: What are your short-term and long-term plans for improving security in Afghanistan?Cetin: Security is our first priority in Afghanistan. It goes without saying that stability and economic prosperity are closely linked to maintaining security. As far as I can see, there are different components for attaining a secure environment. NATO is not the only component. Security Sector Reform (SSR), a major component of security structure in Afghanistan, is comprised of five closely linked pillars. Moreover, the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process is one of the most significant pillars of SSR. In the broader picture, you see the restructuring and training of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the police force. This process occupies a central place in the SSR and DDR processes.
Obviously, the international community is prepared to assist Afghanistan in providing better security. Individual countries and the UN are making all necessary efforts to achieve this. In this framework, NATO plays an important role too. I should emphasize that we need to further coordinate our respective efforts with an aim of maximizing the benefits.
Having said this, I see NATO's progressive expansion to some provinces in various formats as an essential requirement to provide better security. Unity of efforts between [the US-led] Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and NATO-led ISAF is also deemed essential for better coordination. In the longer run, gradual deployment of the ANA and the police force will further support the efforts of the ATA to provide security across the country.
EurasiaNet: What are your plans for expanding International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond the Afghan capital, Kabul. There are some media reports suggesting that member countries remain reluctant to commit troops or provide logistical support, despite agreeing to an expansion in principle.Cetin: I must reiterate that Afghanistan is NATO's top priority. Now that the command of ISAF has been taken over by NATO, we are in the phase of operational planning for expansion beyond Kabul. On the other hand, one has to remember that NATO's presence in Afghanistan is not limited to Kabul and environs only. The Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) established in [the northeastern province of] Kunduz is also covered by NATO under a member country's [Germany's] lead. Whatever the media reports may argue, NATO is now overseeing prospects to expand across the country in a phased approach. Planning and consensus among the member countries is essential for successful implementation. I expect that important decisions will be taken in the months ahead, particularly during the NATO Istanbul Summit in late June. NATO will do whatever it can to boost security in Afghanistan.
EurasiaNet: How do you look at various models for restructuring PRTs? There is at least one proposal put forward by high-ranking Afghan officials recommending that PRTs focus only on security and leave the reconstruction part to the UN agencies and NGOs. Cetin: There are a number of PRTs already established in Afghanistan. Their established structures are very similar, but there are some divergences as well. Such differences are deemed necessary due to the differences in local conditions. In other words, the individual PRTs have flexibility to adjust their structure and working conditions according to the local priorities and environment. At this stage, it is premature to pass judgment on whether it would be appropriate to change the mandate of the PRTs.
EurasiaNet: Do you respond to claims that little progress has been made on the DDR process, which is vital for Afghanistan's stability? [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].Cetin: I quite disagree with that. Fair recognition should be given to the fact that no effort is spared to implement the DDR process swiftly. In this respect, one has to remember that after almost a quarter of century of warfare, the international community is trying to assist Afghanistan's normalization and stabilization process. This is not an easy task. It will take time.
EurasiaNet: Over the past two years poppy cultivation and narcotics trafficking have emerged as one of the key challenges to stabilization efforts. Do you have any plans to tackle this? Cetin: This is a complex issue, which has deep and complicated roots in the social, economic and political environment. ... I recognize poppy cultivation and drug trafficking as a major issue, which needs to be addressed in Afghanistan. In fact, counter narcotics is one of the five pillars of the SSR process. It is acknowledged that the narcotics issue is closely related to the security situation as well. I think we need time and the cooperation of the Afghan people to implement their five-year National Drugs Control Strategy to tackle this challenge. This strategy is based on three inter-related pillars: law enforcement, creation of alternative livelihoods and demand reduction.
EurasiaNet: How do you look at the issue of warlord power?Cetin: In the recent past, there was no central government and authority, so regions had to take care of themselves. Now, we have the central authority and the reintegration and reconciliation of all regions is a key to addressing this issue. Again, we need time to implement confidence building and reintegration measures. We should look into the future and focus on the reconciliation for peace, stability, and national unity of Afghanistan.
Abubaker Saddique reports on South Central Asia.