NATO Beyond Afghanistan

By Steve Saideman

In the summit in Wales last week, NATO tried to put Afghanistan in the rearview mirror, but its legacy will continue to shape the organization for years to come. Much of the focus in Wales was on burden-sharing as it has traditionally been defined: goals focused on spending a percentage of one’s gross domestic product on defense. This is a change from the burden-sharing debates in Afghanistan, where countries varied quite significantly in what they were willing to do and where they were willing to do it, which meant that some countries paid a far higher cost in blood than others. The inequalities in what countries were willing to do, far more than what they were willing to buy, will influence how members perceive their allies and the alliance.

In NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone, David Auerswald and I seek to understand how NATO operates in wartime. We quickly realized that the decisions of how to operate were largely made in national capitals. Countries never give up complete control of the troops they provide to NATO commanders. Instead, each contingent has a senior officer who has the responsibility to say yes, no, or maybe when asked to do something by the NATO commander. For us, the question then turned to the rules by which these officers make the decisions.

Countries varied systematically in terms of how much discretion the troops on the ground had to follow the commands of the NATO leaders. Some countries delegated quite a bit to the officers in the field, who then largely went along with NATO orders. Some countries provided very restrictive rules (also known as caveats) that limited what the contingents could do. There were some that were mostly saying maybe, which meant a phone call home to ask for permission. The big difference we found was between those countries were a single leader or party were in power and those run by coalition governments.

In coalition governments, such as Germany or the Netherlands, the need to compromise among the competing parties in power meant the less enthusiastic parties could demand conditions in exchange for their support of the mission. Without such compromises, the mission would not receive approval and could collapse as it ultimately did for the Dutch. This bargaining among parties would be more intense if the coalition was relatively broad—including left and right wing parties—and less problematic if the coalition was narrow. Denmark proved to be the exception that proved the rule of coalition governments having more restrictions. The Danes were willing to fight in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan—Helmand’s green zone—precisely because the parties supporting the government were from the same side of the political spectrum.

For Presidential systems and for single party parliamentary governments, the personalities and experiences of the President/Prime Minister was key. In foreign policy, these leaders did not have to bargain much to make deployment decisions, so any restrictions on the troops were due to their own inclinations or of those relatively high up the chain of command (Rumsfeld). This was most clearly illustrated by France. Until 2007, the public efforts by France in Afghanistan were highly restricted—acting as peacekeepers in Kabul, refusing to engage in more “kinetic” efforts. When Jacques Chirac was replaced by Nicolas Sarkozy, French policy in Afghanistan changed overnight, as the French forces then deployed to Kapisa and engaged the Taliban quite directly.

How does all this matter now? While Afghanistan is nearly in NATO’s past, the distrust and frustration created by the uneven burden-sharing are important today. At the summit, there was much talk of a Rapid Reaction Force, which was most confusing because it is not clear how such an enterprise can work when countries vary in how much discretion they give to their troops. I simply doubt that the Germans can pre-delegate authority to commanders when the target of the effort is not known. Likewise, the 2% of GDP debate was renewed, and Canada resisted mightily. Prime Minister Stephen Harper could rebuff any criticism by asking: were you fighting with us in Kandahar? Did you show up when we needed you? Indeed, Canada’s participation in the reassurance missions this summer in Romania and Poland could be reminders that Canada does not spend but it does what it can do. Canada did the hard work that many countries in NATO did not do in Afghanistan or in Libya.

While these kinds of burden-sharing problems always existed, the violence in Afghanistan made the consequences clearer to all. We can learn from the Afghanistan experience to figure out which allies are more or less likely to be reliable the next time. Our book, we think, provides some clues.

Steve Saideman is a political scientist specializing in international relations. A Fellow with the Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Institute, as well as a professor at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, his research and teaching focus on ethnic conflict and civil-military relations. His book, co-authored with David Auerswald, is available from the publisher, Amazon.com, Book Depository, and elsewhere.

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A Discussion About Afghanistan with Former Taliban Prisoner Paul Refsdal

By Suzanne Schroeder

Note: This paper is drawn from an interview with Paul Refsdal, a Norwegian journalist kidnapped by the Taliban while filming members of the organization in 2009. Mr. Refsdal was very candid, discussing a variety of issues, such as his conversion to Islam and ideology of the Taliban. This paper focused primarily on his insights regarding negotiation, local interests, and the role of the Taliban in Afghanistan’s future.

In June, the Norwegian journalist Paul Refsdal, agreed to an interview to discuss his 2009 kidnapping by the Afghan Taliban and various aspects of the insurgency. As US forces prepare to leave Afghanistan, with only a residual footprint remaining in an advisory capacity, I wanted to ask Refsdal’s opinion on the future of the country and what he thought the Taliban’s role might be. His answers contain what may be one of the central takeaways from the NATO/US experience there: that any hope of establishing lasting democratic governance must be based on an understanding of local concerns and alliances.

Imprisonment, bargaining, and releases

Refsdal discussed the Layha, the Taliban Code of Conduct, which first appeared in a rudimentary format in 2006. The Afghanistan Analysts Network’s Kate Clark1 and former EU representative for Afghanistan Michael Semple have examined how the Layha reflects the practical concerns of the insurgency and what adaptations the Taliban have made in response to changing conditions. Kidnapping, like all Taliban activities, is ideally meant to follow the rules as they are presented, yet various “excuses” are employed to circumvent them. For example, saying that a captive was a “spy” is used as a justification for kidnapping. There is a practical reason for this: kidnapping and ransoms are a major funding source for the insurgency. In Refsdal’s case, no ransom was paid for his release. He explained that the existing hierarchy among the group that he had originally filmed intervened and ordered his safe release.

When discussing the recent prisoner exchange that resulted in the release of US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban custody, Refsdal commented on “the importance of keeping politicians out of hostage negotiation.” Much public discourse about the exchange focused on a largely media-manufactured political controversy that could potentially undermine similar future negotiations. The more important and constructive takeaway that the media missed may be that the exchange established some foundation to build on towards future talks with the insurgency. The Taliban demonstrated that if each side can agree to workable conditions, they were willing to fulfill their end of the bargain.

Negotiations and stability

One of the most interesting answers to my questions was Refsdal’s discussion of generational differences among the Taliban, and how this has the potential to affect future stability:

“The US strategy of killing Taliban leaders surely can be defended from a military point of view, but it can be disastrous for the future of Afghanistan. When foreign forces have left and the Afghan government will sit down with the Taliban to draw up the future of their country, we want wise old men to sit around the table. Not a bunch of angry young men.”

He also discussed local peace agreements that have occurred between Afghan security forces and local Taliban commanders. This sense of local compromise has a long history in Afghanistan. In the past two years, several excellent books have been published on the need to have a full, and historically-based understanding of local conditions, alliances, differences, and of competition for access and resources. These conditions drive Afghan responses to the foreign presence.2

On a similar note, Refsdal spoke of the need for de-centralized power, stressing that Afghan democracy must be local, with ethnic lines acknowledged. These are key considerations raised by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn in a recent discussion on future negotiations with the Taliban.3 They point out that future negotiations will likely involve the inclusion of multiple actors in the process. They emphasize that local power structures must be understood and that groups can function democratically, providing that all parties have a sense that they are stakeholders in a process that does not marginalize their interests.

Protracted instability and questions about the future

On the possibility of a protracted impasse between the Taliban and the central government, Refsdal made the following comment:

“First, the Afghan government could offer the Taliban some kind of power-sharing solution, leaving the Taliban in control of most or all of the Pashtun areas, meaning the areas inhabited by the ethnic group from which they draw support.“

If this were to occur, it is unclear what Taliban governance would look like. How would they manage the endemic corruption? If they were able to restore “law and order” as they did in 1996, would they avoid the excesses and abuses that have come to define their tenure as a ruling government? How would a development project be implemented with a Taliban governor in place? What factors would motivate groups who would opt to ally with the Taliban, and those who would continue to resist?

If the power-sharing option were not pursued, then Refsdal went on to suggest that the likely alternative would be, “the two sides fight it out for a couple of years and eventually the Taliban gains control of these same Pashtun areas.” Neither of these options of power-sharing or protracted conflict are very appealing. However, the idea that Afghanistan will be left as an example of intervention resulting in progressive, representative democracy has been abandoned, by all but the most ideologically invested. The final results of the recent elections will be crucial in determining whether a power-sharing arrangement can result without continuing violence or civil war.

Suzanne is an independent analyst concentrating on the Afghan insurgency. She is currently working on a collaborative project documenting occurrences and coverage of school poisoning incidents in Afghanistan. For additional information about her interview with Mr. Refsdal, you can contact her at sues57 [at] hotmail [dot] com. You can follow Suzanne on Twitter at @SuzanneSues57.

1 Kate Clark. 4 July 2011. ‘The Layha: Calling the Taleban to Account’, Afghanistan Analysts Network, available at afghanistan-analysts.org

2 For further reading on this dynamic, see Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living; Carter Malkasian, War Comes to Garmser, Mike Martin, An Intimate War, and Karl Sandstrom, Local Interests and American Foreign policy: Why Interventions Fail

3 Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn. 2014. ‘Rebooting a Political Settlement: Engagement and Mediation After the Afghan Elections’, Chatham House, available at chathamhouse.org

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Research Spotlight

We are now ready to begin receiving unsolicited submissions of published works, unpublished academic drafts, dissertations, and related content.

Two primary motivators for reviving this website were to (1) to provide an online research portal for scholars, students, journalists, policy-makers, NGO/humanitarian workers, members of the armed forces, and others who want to better understand Afghanistan; and (2) to provide greater exposure to the work of researchers and scholars who focus upon Afghanistan. Most of the content on this site has been geared toward the first goal. We are now moving forward with the second.

Guidelines for unsolicited submissions of content are posted at the Research Spotlight link in the main menu above. Specific types of submissions that we accept include:
– Book summaries from authors who have recently published books
– Article summaries from authors of recently published, peer-reviewed articles
– Unpublished drafts from researchers seeking feedback
– Dissertation summaries from PhD candidates who recently completed their dissertations
– Master’s thesis summaries from authors whose thesis involves substantial field research

The intent is to provide a free means for authors to publicize their work and to enable users of this site to be more quickly alerted to new research as it is published. It is our hope that more researchers may more meaningfully contribute to the exchange of information and increase of knowledge, gain greater recognition for their work, and have another means of connecting with the community of researchers and scholars who study Afghanistan.

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Monday Morning Legal Updates

A fifth edition of the Afghanistan Law Bibliography is long overdue. Rather than wait for a final product before posting new resources and links, a work-in-progress page will now be maintained under the Afghanistan Law Bibliography tab of the main menu. All new material being considered for inclusion will be posted there on Monday mornings. To be clear, “new” material refers to the material being newly discovered, not necessarily the most recently produced.

This will be a very raw information dump, with simply a title, URL, some basic information, and a short description. It is likely that not all material here will be included in the next edition. Some sources may be removed if, upon further review, the resources appear to be shoddy, outdated, redundant, not useful, et cetera. However, “perfect” being the enemy of “good enough,” it seems that a work-in-progress that is subject to change is of greater use than a refined but overdue update.

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Power-Sharing in Afghanistan

Following a second round of voting in the Afghan Presidential election, allegations of fraud led to a potential political crisis. To avert the potential crisis, the two candidates in the run-off election, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, are reported to have agreed to a long-term plan to create a Prime Minister position in the Afghan government. See Afghans to Alter the Government (NYT, 13 July 2014).

Although this plan is being hailed as a breakthrough, and a new hope for future stability, it will be an unstable and slow-going task to make it work. The structure and division of power in the Afghan government is laid out in the constitution. There is no Prime Minister position in the constitution. To change this arrangement, the constitution must be amended.

The mechanism to amend the constitution is to convene a Constitutional Loya Jirga. Article 110 of the constitution articulates the composition of the CLJ. It includes the members of the National Assembly, as well as Presidents of the provincial and district assemblies. One problem here is that the district assemblies have not fully formed.

In the event that the CLJ can be formed in a manner consistent with the requirements of article 110, it will be difficult to manage the group and foster sufficient cooperation to draft articles that a majority can agree upon. There will be much jockeying behind the scenes leading up to the CLJ, as well as during its meeting. This is not a minor issue being debated. It is a fundamental question of how power will be shared, divided, and balanced in a country where strong patronage networks have formed around government offices and sources of foreign revenue, with the two often being synonymous. Stakeholders will not yield their revenue sources or revenue-generating powers without substantial wrangling.

To dig deeper into these issues, see the Constitutional Law section of the Afghanistan Law Bibliography. Article 110 of The Constitution of Afghanistan is fairly straightforward. As the constitution was being drafted, a report from International Crisis Group, Afghanistan’s Flawed Constitutional Process, gave a downbeat assessment of the approach of having power centralized in a strong President. After the drafting, J. Alexander Thier wrote about the constitutional drafting process and debates that arose in The Making of a Constitution in Afghanistan. Thier also wrote with John Dempsey about the issue of constitutional interpretation in Resolving the Crisis over Constitutional Interpretation in Afghanistan. Rainer Grote provides an explanation of the current separation of powers in Separation of Powers in the New Afghan Constitution.

The articles linked to above are all free to access. If you have access to academic databases, there are a variety of other materials listed on the Constitutional Law section that you will be able to access.

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Accessing “Hidden” Analysis on Afghanistan

I have been searching journal article databases and directories in preparation for another edition of the bibliography. For 2014 there are many new and valuable articles on Afghanistan. Some of them are very relevant to the current situation and would likely be of interest to those who work in government, international organisations, NGOs, military, journalism, etc… Unfortunately, many of these analytical articles are hiding behind some very steep pay walls.

I’ve picked out an interesting selection and provided a link plus some info on how much you would have to pay to read these articles (the price is to read one single article):

Nick Miszak & Alessandro Monsutti, “Landscapes of power: local struggles and national stakes at the rural-urban fringe of Kabul, Afghanistan,” The Journal of Peasant Studies, Volume 41, Issue 2 (2014). Link. ($39.00)

Kathleen Collins, “The Limits of Cooperation: Central Asia, Afghanistan, and the New Silk Road,” Asia Policy, Number 17 (January 2014). Link. ($4.95)

Shane A. Smith, “Afghanistan after the Occupation: Examining the Post-Soviet Withdrawal and the Najibullah Regime It Left Behind, 1989–1992,” Historian, Volume 76, Issue 2 (2014). Link. (Unknown $$$)

Rhodante Ahlers et al., “Ambitious development on fragile foundations: Criticalities of current large dam construction in Afghanistan,” Geoforum, Volume 54 (July 2014). Link. ($19.95)

Julien Mercille, “Beyond Swat: history, society and economy along the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier,” Central Asian Survey, Volume 33, Issue 1 (2014). Link. ($39.00)

Sumitha Narayanan Kutty, “Iran’s Continuing Interests in Afghanistan,” The Washington Quarterly, Volume 37, Issue 2 (2014). Link. ($39.00)

Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, “Informal Federalism: Self-Governance and Power Sharing in Afghanistan,” Publius, Volume 44, Issue 2 (2014). Link. (One day rental for $38.00)

Eric Jardine & Simon Palamar, “Numerous, Capable, and Well-Funded Rebels: Insurgent Military Effectiveness and Deadly Attacks in Afghanistan,” Terrorism and Political Violence (May 2014). Link. ($39.00)

Zubaidullo Ubaidulloev, “Afghanistan-Tajikistan Relations: Past and Present,” Asia-Pacific Review, Volume 21, Issue 1 (2014). Link. ($39.00)

As you can see, most of the articles cost nearly $40, and one absurdly wants to charge $38 for you to “rent” the article for 24 hours, an amount of money with which you could buy two books to keep forever. I will avoid a discussion of the ethics and economics of the academic publishing industry – as well as side-stepping the concerns of the scholars who produce this research. Instead, I’ll write about how to get these articles without paying for them. I won’t be paying $40 for an article that I may find is not useful for a number of possible reasons. Even if I know the article is good and I need it, I won’t be spending the money.

If you are at a university or a government institution with subscription access then getting these articles is not a problem. But if you aren’t, how can you get these articles? Here’s what to do:

1. First, simply google the article. The article may be posted online elsewhere as a service to those without subscription access.

2. Search for an earlier version. The author may have a draft posted online. Also, the article may be online as an earlier conference paper.

3. Do you know a university student at work or elsewhere? Ask them to grab the article for you. If they are at a large western university, then they will likely have access. Interns usually have this online access.

4. Ask for a copy on Twitter or Facebook (“Anybody have access to Article X?”). This usually works. People are helpful.

5. Finally, send an email to the author and ask for a PDF. They are usually glad to send you a copy (they get no share of revenue from the publishers). Of course, there are some professors who ignore emails from their own grad students, so there are no guarantees of a response…

There is some great analysis out there, you just sometimes need to work a bit to get your hands on it.

 

 

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Resumed Operations

The Afghanistan Analyst website is resuming activity. This site is the product of countless hours of work, compensated not in money, but in satisfaction in providing a useful resource for others. Despite lying dormant for nearly two years, this site continues to draw over 2,000 visitors per month who are searching for information about Afghanistan. The user base for this site exists, and we are now going to resume providing content for that user base.

The Afghanistan Analyst fills a specific niche among the many websites, weblogs, and organizations dedicated to Afghanistan. We do not conduct field research like AREU, provide daily analysis like AAN, or cover daily news like Colin Cookman’s outstanding Pakistan-Afghanistan Update. Instead, the Afghanistan Analyst helps to identify resources for researchers, scholars, and other academic-minded individuals to locate scholarly publications, documentation of field research, and other useful information relating to Afghanistan. This site’s audience is not policymakers, but rather the researchers and academics who do the difficult work of expanding knowledge and understanding of Afghanistan and who, hopefully, may go on to inform policymakers.

In the weeks ahead, existing resources on this site will be reviewed to remove or update broken hyperlinks. Newly published work will be featured in this blog. Newly located (but existing) work will be added to the site as it is found.

Recommendations are appreciated. If you have a forthcoming book, peer-reviewed journal article, or substantial research that is appropriate for inclusion, please let us know. If you are aware of an online resource that is of use to this site’s visitors, please let us know.

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