The fight for rights cannot be won by military means

Despite good intentions, the Western world has not achieved security and development in Afghanistan. One reason for this is that most of the financial support has gone to military operations. In addition, cooperation with the military has damaged the credibility of civilian aid actors, writes Anna-Karin Johansson, Secretary General of the Swedish Afghanistan Committee, in connection with the ongoing Afghanistan investigation.

When the two planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York two days after Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated in Afghanistan, employees of the Swedish Afghanistan Committee (SAK) had an idea of ​​what awaited the country. In the first issue of SAK's magazine Afghanistan-nytt after 11 September 2001, it was written on the cover: “Stop the bombings! The people of Afghanistan need food, medicine and education. "

The Swedish Afghanistan Committee has been active in the country for over 35 years. An evaluation of the Swedish military and civilian efforts in the country from 2002 to 2014 is currently underway. SAK has submitted a letter to the evaluation office about our experiences from the current years.

Swedish troops should have left Afghanistan

At the outset, we at SAK were in favor of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. On the other hand, we condemned the American bombings, which unacceptably affected the civilian population, violated international law and posed a threat to Afghanistan's national independence.

When ISAF was later placed under American command and allowed to be mixed with warfare / counter-terrorism activities, SAK reacted strongly and believed that Swedish troops should leave Afghanistan. We considered that it was not possible to win a battle for social, economic, political and human rights through warfare.

Partnerships with the military damage credibility

Civil-military cooperation has served as a tactical cornerstone of the international Afghanistan operation. Even in Sweden, there has been a pronounced political ambition to coordinate civilian and military efforts. However, SAK consistently chose not to enter into a partnership with the Swedish military. The main reason was that our credibility in Afghan society would be seriously damaged if we, as an individual organization and aid actor, were associated with a party to the ongoing conflict. Our employees would also be at increased risk if they were linked to the international military by any hostile outsider or group.

We have found neither empirical nor research support that the development assistance efforts could be optimized with the help of civil-military cooperation. Instead, we believe that the humanitarian principle of neutrality is necessary to adhere to in order to carry out our work in the best possible way, even on the day when the international military operation is completed.

Too few resources for civilian operations

It is incredibly sad, but despite ambition and good intentions, the entire Western world has not achieved what was the goal at the beginning of the intervention - development and security in Afghanistan. The US leadership (along with ISAF and NATO) responded with more warfare even when everything suggested that the armed resistance groups were strengthened by the foreign military presence. Civilian aid efforts were undermined by the fragmentation of Afghan society caused by the war, especially in rural areas.

In addition, the balance between military and civilian operations has been very skewed. For every euro the EU has invested in civilian reconstruction, five euros have been spent on military operations. For the Swedish part, the proportions have looked better, but there was still more financial support for military operations than for civilian reconstruction.

The military paved the way for corruption

Economic resources were pumped into Afghanistan, but the bulk was consumed by the military. On the civilian side, only a fraction of the money reached Afghanistan - large cash flows went back to the donor countries in the form of, for example, purchases and fees to aid consultants. The international military's distribution of cash to former Afghan warlords who were re-employed paved the way for rampant corruption and inflation, which was further exacerbated by donors, especially in major cities, donating large sums of money to ill-conceived projects. The war economy came to be promoted at the expense of a healthy local economy.

SAK looks forward to the Afghanistan Inquiry's final report. We are convinced that there are many important lessons to be learned from Sweden's operations in Afghanistan to improve future civilian and military international operations, as well as Sweden's relationship to other military operations.

Anna Karin Johansson

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

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