Need for greater coordination - a lesson from Afghanistan

"Without security no development and without development no security" is stated in political speeches. But what does that mean in practice? Synergies between security efforts and aid efforts can be found, but it is very complicated and requires careful coordination. Anders Oljelund writes this on the occasion of the ongoing Afghanistan investigation.

When synergies between different factors give greater results than the sum of the factors' individual effects, we talk about synergies or synergy gains. Are synergy gains possible when the military and aid workers work together?

One month after the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2011, the United States launched military operations against strategic targets in Afghanistan under the name of the operation. Enduring Freedom. Two months later, the UN Security Council decided to form International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, which was initially only responsible for security in Kabul. However, Afghanistan is not just Kabul. It is rather anything but Kabul. Therefore, the idea of ​​was born Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT). Individual countries would take military and civilian responsibility for specific provinces in Afghanistan.

Unclear relationships between efforts

In March 2006, Sweden took over responsibility for a large PRT area in northern Afghanistan. Not much was said about the relationship to other PRT areas, nor was anything said about what was meant by the word reconstruction, reconstruction, or how PRT would relate to the international development cooperation that was going on in the country. "Without security no development and without development no security" is stated in political speeches. But what does that mean in practice? To test the claim, the Swedish government decided in June 2007 that 15-20 percent of Sweden's aid to Afghanistan would go to the Swedish PRT area. Thus, Sweden stated that we also took on a development policy responsibility for these provinces.

In the spring of 2008, I was commissioned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) to investigate the efforts in the Swedish PRT area and submit proposals for measures - in Afghanistan and in Stockholm - to realize the Government's intentions. The inquiry's many conclusions can be summarized as follows:

- PRT as a form of intervention is not suitable for development cooperation, but this was the approach offered to interested countries.

- The development aid and military authorities are very different in their cultures, working methods and time perspectives, and that may be the case. However, there may be goal conflicts between the two approaches.

- An overall Swedish strategy is needed for our various efforts in Afghanistan if they are to strengthen each other.

- Swedish ministries and authorities operating in Afghanistan must coordinate better. There is no body in the Government Offices that can make overall assessments and trade-offs regarding different types of initiatives.

- There is a need for development policy and diplomatic competence in Sweden's PRT, and greater knowledge of social and economic conditions in the area.

- The 12 countries leading the PRT areas must coordinate their development policies; among themselves and with the State of Afghanistan.

No easy levers to pull

The investigation was made eight years ago. I do not know what conclusions the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, Sida, the Armed Forces, the Swedish Afghanistan Committee and other authorities and organizations involved have drawn from the attempts to achieve synergy between development and security, between troop presence and aid. The current Afghanistan inquiry will make its assessment this autumn.

My own conclusion is that it is certainly possible to find synergies between security efforts and aid efforts in a given area, but that it is complicated and requires a lot of thought and knowledge about local conditions. There are no easy levers to pull.

Strong arguments have been put forward against military formations appearing side by side with aid operations, and against the military conducting aid work. A counter-argument from the military who were responsible for Sweden's PRT was that no one but the Swedish troop had the opportunity to reach out to remote villages in the PRT area: "Is it then wrong that we bring some sacks of rice to distribute to a vulnerable population when we visit? Is it wrong for us to take a burnt girl to the military hospital in our camp when there is no care available elsewhere? ”

Have we succeeded or failed in Afghanistan?

Most governments that have had a military and civilian involvement in Afghanistan are probably now conducting internal evaluations of various kinds. One guess is that many will be critical of the international engagement in Afghanistan as a whole, but less critical of their own efforts. The result is in the yardstick. If the yardstick is hopes and visions, it leads to a certain conclusion. If the result is measured against more realistic and limited goals, the conclusion will be different.

Many successes have been achieved in the form of more girls in schools and better insights into human rights, but most agree that there were obvious shortcomings in the international community's efforts to create peace, stability and democracy in Afghanistan. Here are, as I see it, some of these shortcomings, in no particular order:

- Most were probably aware of the difficulties of working in Afghanistan, but still they were underestimated.

- There was no commonly formulated goal for the many organizations and countries that became involved in Afghanistan.

- The UN had no overriding and coordinating role.

- ISAF did not and would not have any overall responsibility for civilian operations, but no one else had either.

- Two military operations took place at the same time with partly different goals and working methods; ISAF and Enduring Freedom.

- The PRT concept led to a fragmentation of the country. 25 PRT areas were managed by 12 countries, each in its own way. There was an ISAF management but at an overly comprehensive level.

The efforts in Afghanistan leave much to be desired, but it is also easy to judge in retrospect. There is seldom a time when the international community can unconditionally think through and choose an overall approach to its efforts in a country in crisis. It does not work that way.

Neither Sweden nor any other country could freely choose the format for their involvement in Afghanistan. This is often the case in peacekeeping operations. Afghanistan is also in many ways a unique example, which means that the future value of lessons learned from the efforts may be limited. Having said that, the efforts in Afghanistan are reminiscent of the importance of coordination around goals and working methods between different actors - something we should always keep in mind in international security and development cooperation.

Anders Oljelund

This is the second exclusive debate article that Bistå publishes due to the ongoing investigation of Sweden's civilian and military efforts in Afghanistan 2002-2014. Also read the Swedish Afghanistan Committee's Secretary General Anna-Karin Johansson's debate article The fight for rights cannot be won by military means.

On 31 May 2016, the FUF and the Afghanistan Inquiry co-organized the seminar Lessons from Afghanistan with a focus on Swedish aid to Afghanistan. The seminar is available to take part in film and podcast.

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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