It is time to acknowledge that military intervention in Afghanistan has failed and even led to a deterioration of security there, say MEPs in a report, approved by a show of hands on Thursday, which blames the coalition forces for miscalculating their options. A new EU exit strategy needs to be shaped in full co-operation with the Afghans, and including the Taliban at the negotiating table, it adds.
The EU strategy for Afghanistan needs a radical rethink: first, the EU and its allies need to acknowledge continuous deterioration in security and socio-economic conditions there, despite almost a decade of international involvement, and also the need to involve Afghans fully in the exit strategy, says the report.
The coalition is increasingly perceived by Afghans as an occupying force, says the report, which criticizes the US for its "contradictory attempt to 'decapitate' the insurgency leadership using drones, US special forces and local militias, which are of questionable legal status, result in frequent civilian casualties and discredit the international intervention".
A more balanced civilian/military approach is needed, including more measures to eradicate poverty and discrimination against women, it adds.
Almost 32,000 soldiers are contributed by all EU Member States except Cyprus and Malta to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, representing 24.2% of the total ISAF troops.
MEPs propose that the new EU strategy for Afghanistan should aim to improve international aid co-ordination, fine-tune the EU's role and involvement of Afghan players in the peace process, improve the quality of police training and eliminate opium cultivation.
MEPs blame the current difficulties on early miscalculations by coalition forces. "The presence of the Taliban was underestimated, the ability of the Karzai government to provide governance overestimated, and as a result, little attention was paid to the task of rebuilding and developing the country", they say.
They also say that the only possible solution for Afghanistan now is a political one, and that it should include negotiations - to eventually take place against the backdrop of a ceasefire - with the Taliban and other combatant groups and political players in the country who show their will to put an end to the civil war, and ensure respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights.
The text deplores the ineffectiveness of police training and recruitment standards, the high illiteracy rate and number of drug abusers in police forces. Given that an operative national police force is a prerequisite for the coalition forces to conclude their action in Afghanistan, MEPs call for improved international co-operation in this field, proposing a large-scale training programme to be launched jointly by the EU police mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL) and NATO/International Security Assistance Force, and incorporating the national police units.
(Ab)use of international aid
MEPs condemn the abuse of aid channelled through international organizations, resulting in the loss of "a significant proportion" of European and other international aid, due to waste, excessive intermediary and security costs, overbilling and corruption.
To remedy the lack of co-ordination and transparency among international donors, MEPs call on the EU to set up a centralized database of all EU aid and to allocate more funds directly to concrete projects run in partnership with Afghan institutions. They also welcome the international decision to channel 50% of the international aid through the Afghan national budget in 2012.
MEPs also draw attention to the huge cost of the war (USD 300 billion in 2001-09, more than 20 times Afghanistan's GDP) and notes that the decision to place the US military supply chain in private hands "is fuelling extortion and corruption, as warlords, local mafia bosses and ultimately Taliban commanders end up taking a significant share of the USD 2.2-3 billion business of military logistics in Afghanistan".
MEPs say the new strategy's fourth priority should be to step up efforts to phase out opium cultivation by the 3.4 million Afghans who live from poppy crops, by promoting the use of alternatives such as saffron. MEPs call for a five-year national plan for the switch to alternative crops, to be implemented by a new agency to be created with its own budget and staff. Finally, the use of chemicals and herbicides to destroy the poppy fields should be banned by national law, says the report.