The Hague Center for Strategic Studies


A new strategy for Afghanistan


The Hague, Nederlands, 03/30/09



Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to be in this prestigious forum with you to discuss the new US strategy in Afghanistan. I would like to thanks the Hague Center for Strategic Studies, and my dear friend Dr. Christa Meindersma. I am honored to be here and very grateful for your interest to Afghanistan.


Allow me to convey my sincere gratitude to the people and government of the Netherlands for being a true partner and great supporter of my people. We are very grateful for your financial and political support, as well as the sacrifices of your brave solders fighting to make Afghanistan, the region and the world a safer place for our children.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Seven years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan is facing increased security challenges that require a new comprehensive approach.


Looking back, the United States came to help in Afghanistan after Al Qaeda’s vicious attack on September 11, 2001. The immediate objective of the U.S. intervention was to eliminate terrorists and destroy Al Qaeda bases. The initial strategy was the so called “light foot” print strategy. While state institutions were systematically destroyed by 30 years of war, invasion and violence, the “light” footprint was not the “right” footprint and strategy.


The rapid collapse of the Taliban created unrealistic and excessive optimism, while the war in Iraq distracted attention and resources from Afghanistan. The institution building strategy was uncoordinated and ad hoc, with excessive emphasis on creating new parallel institutions while overlooking substance and sustainability.


On the military front, the Taliban were neither eliminated nor fully defeated. They were pushed into the countryside and across the border. Subsequently, the security situation deteriorated due to the limited number of troops on the ground, the meager resources applied to building the capacity of the Afghan government to deliver services and provide protection to its citizens, the negligence of building the police force, not reforming the judicial system, the underinvestment in building the national army. Limited attention was paid to the rule of law, leaving us with no option but to accept stability over justice as a short-term solution. Human rights violations and war crimes remained unpunished, creating a culture of impunity for spoilers and criminals.


Furthermore, the regional aspect of terrorism was ignored. Terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan remained operational, and there was misplaced trust in Pakistan’s military dictatorship’s ability to fight terrorism. While the military in Pakistan received blank checks, our region was further destabilized by two lethal trends in our neighborhood: the Pakistanization of Al Qaeda and the Talibanization of Pakistan.


Subsequently, the Afghan war theater lacked a practical unified military command and proper coordination of all civilian, political, military, national and international and actors.


Today we are at a turning point. If we do not implement the new well thought and comprehensive strategy, Afghanistan and Pakistan can turn into tipping points. The new strategy is truly a down payment for our shared future, as President Obama has indicated.


Against this background, President Barack Obama pledged to formulate a new strategy for Afghanistan. He appointed Mr. Bruce Riedel to combine the three existing strategy reviews by Gen. David Petraeus (CENTCOM), Lt. Col. Doug Lute (NSC) and Adm. Mike Mullen (Chiefs of Staff) into one comprehensive new U.S. strategy. For the first time, U.S. agencies, NATO allies, the Afghan and Pakistani governments and donor countries have been consulted. A high-level delegation of Afghan officials traveled to Washington on February 24-27 to provide our perspectives and share our ideas with US and Pakistani partners. The result is the first truly comprehensive strategy that touches upon counter-insurgency, development and regional aspects of security and terrorism and provides clearly defined, measurable and attainable goals and objectives.


The Afghans government welcomes and fully supports President Obama’s new strategy. We are grateful for being officially consulted during this process. Our views are fully reflected in the strategy. We had asked for:


* Shared regional responsibility and Sincere cooperation of Pakistan to eliminate the sources of indoctrination, logistical and financial support to extremists and terrorists in Pakistan
* Increase in the number of our security forces coupled with temporary Surge of U.S. troops until we build our own security forces
* Assistance to build the Afghan Government’s capacity to deliver services and eliminate corruption
* Set forth clear parameters for reconciliation with certain elements of the Taliban
* Enhance civilian and military coordination and create a truly unified command center with full Afghan participation
* Increase reconstruction assistance and aid effectiveness


We emphasized that building a peaceful, pluralistic and prosperous Afghanistan is not a distant dream of the Afghan people and government. It is a necessity for sustainable peace in Afghanistan, stability in the region and security in the world. Let me be clear on one point, we are not imposing Jeffersonian democracy on Afghanistan. However we are preventing the imposition of dictatorship, terror and tyranny by building a democratic society. To suggest that Afghans do not deserve or demand peace, pluralism and human rights is unfounded. Afghanistan before the Soviets invasion had a fully functioning government, parliament and civil society. Afghans are tired of terror and tyranny and strongly desire a peaceful life through partnership with the international community. The women of Afghanistan have not forgotten the terror and tyranny of the Taliban – and they never will.


We welcome President Obama’s plan to send additional troops and civilians. However, the long-term and most sustainable strategy is to build an effective and well-equipped Afghan army and police force to fight terrorism and create a reliable partner in this volatile region. We appreciate that the number of our ANA is to increase 134,000 and the ANP to 82,000, with a commitment to further increase this number, if needed. To secure Afghanistan we need an army of at least 250,000 to defend herself and relieve U.S. and NATO troops from harm’s way as they bravely have done in the last seven years. We need a similar type of support for a 140,000 police force, which currently lacks the proper training, equipment and discipline.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

We also made it clear in our tri-lateral meetings with our US and Pakistani partners that we will not succeed in Afghanistan without the sincere cooperation of Pakistan. Today, fortunately, we have excellent relations with the new civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari. The political leaderships of Afghanistan and Pakistan have never been as close and trustful of each other as they are now. (Mark Twin and Johan Sebastian Bach story)


We believe the new civilian government of Pakistan is sincere in fighting extremism and terrorism. President Zardari himself has been a victim of terrorist violence. However, the government lacks the capacity to wage this fight. The Pakistani military, on the other hand, has the capacities to do so, but not the commitment. Despite the atrocities committed by the extremists against the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the army does not consider them as the main enemy. The perceived enemy remains to be India. In this battle, extremists are considered an ally. The new strategy will provide substantial financial assistance and incentives to bring the government and the army of Pakistan together. Ambassador Holbrook will work to help Pakistan and India overcome their mutual mistrust. For the first time, the new strategy is very clear on the issue of terrorism in Pakistan.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our President has welcomed President Obama’s strategy about engaging the Taliban. In fact, the process of talking with individual Taliban commanders has been going on for the past six years and about six hundred mid-level Taliban commanders have joined the peace process. Some even occupy public offices in government and parliament. However, we have to determine precisely who we want to talk to and what the parameters are for those discussions.


The Taliban are politically divided into three major parties: the Quetta Shura led by the Mullah Omar, Miran Shah Shura of the Haqqani Network and the Shamshatoo Camp and Bajawar Shuras by Hezb-e Islami of Hekmatyar. The Taliban are also divided into three distinct ideological groups.


First, the ideological Taliban, those with the capital “T.” This faction is affiliated with Al Qaeda and the regional and international terrorist networks. Contrary to Iraq, the history of Al Qaeda and the Haqqani and Hekmatyar networks are deeply rooted in the three decades of fighting together against the Soviet Union and cemented by inter-marriages. This group of Taliban is irreconcilable and will not rest until their main objectives of eliminating the West and its allies are met. They must be defeated or eliminated by force. We mustn’t forget that in 2001, there were talks with the Taliban for it to deliver Osama bin Laden, but those yielded no success. Furthermore, since 2004, talks with similar groups in Waziristan, Pakistan and FATA have led to regroupings, extended control and brutalities against the Pakistani people.


The mid-level Taliban commanders are the mercenaries that have been recruited by drug traffickers or intelligence agencies and those Afghans that are either antagonized by U.S. and NATO military operations or have been mistreated by the Afghan government officials. These groups can be reconciled through dialogue, buying off, bribery and coercion.


The third and largest group is the “taliban” with the lowercase “t,” or the “paycheck Taliban.” These foot soldiers are mostly unemployed, uneducated and brain-washed young Afghans that are paid $300 a month and have been misled by the enemy with the promise of paradise or further financial rewards. This group needs employment and education, not too much dialogue. We need to give those jobs and hope. Therefore, we need clear parameters for dialogue and focus on the second and third groups.


Negotiation and reconciliation with the Taliban will succeed only if we talk to them from the position of strength and with a clear and strong stand on human rights and the Afghan Constitution. These are principles on which there cannot be concession or compromise. Unfortunately, some of the current media “defeatist” and “reductionist” statements emphasizing “exit strategy” and “reducing expectations” in the U.S. and European capitals feed the Taliban propaganda, which is mainly based on questioning the U.S. and NATO’s staying power. NATO and U.S. forces are saying that we are not winning in Afghanistan, implying that the Taliban are not losing. If they are not losing, why should they talk to us?


We must have a coordinated and unified approach on talking to the Taliban, and the conduit should be through the Afghan officials. I am glad that the new strategy recognizes that Afghanistan is not Iraq. The Sunni awaking by arming tribal militias will not work, due to the fact that the pristine tribal structure of Afghan society has been under attack for the past 30 years. The true and traditional tribal leaders are now replaced by warlords and nacre-traffickers. To arm them as a short cut and temporary measure is risky.


Ladies and Gentleman,

We recognized our responsibility in fighting narcotics and agree that it is fundamental to state-building and counter-terrorism strategy. It should be noted that where the Afghan government is present, poppy fields are absent. Five provinces in volatile Southern Afghanistan produce 91 percent of the country’s poppy. Of this amount, 66 percent comes from Helmand where most of the fighting is taking place and where 7,000 British soldiers are fighting the Taliban. Last year, there was a 19 percent decline of poppy cultivation. The best strategy to fight narcotics is to prevent cultivation, improve interdiction, provide alternative livelihoods, supply sustainable rural development, and increase access to credit and market for legitimate crops. There is no silver bullet or magic crop solution. It is a long-term undertaking that will include development, institution building and law enforcement and eradication.

We agree that corruption is a serious challenge that must be addressed. It is a symptom of bad governance, not its cause. There has been very limited investment in building the capacity of the Afghan government. We are committed to address this problem. Six hundred officials were arrested in the past 10 months. However, corruption does not lead to terrorism. No one will wear a suicide belt and attack a downtown hotel because he was asked for a bribe at a municipal office. The new strategy will focus on capacity-building of the national and local governance and the additional financial assistance will further enable us to pay reasonable salaries to judges, civil servants and police officers.


Let me finish by reminding you of what has been accomplished in Afghanistan. Today 6.4 million children are going back to school, 36% of them girls. We have a democratically elected president and 28% of parliament is comprised of women. We have a vibrant and free media, with hundreds of private radio and TV stations. Schools and health clinics have been built with your assistance in far-flung villages that had never had them. Women have become elected officials such as senator and ministers; they are voters, students, teachers, and entrepreneurs.


I respectfully disagree with those that argue that being in Afghanistan is dangerous. The fact is that, as we remember from the post Cold War era, not being in Afghanistan is much more dangerous.


The Afghan people are determined to rebuild their country and are very grateful for your support and friendship. The success of the new strategy depends on two factors: how many resources will be allocated for its implementation, and how effectively we can increase coordination among ourselves.


Thank you.