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Afghanistan: NATO’s Mission Possible

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M. Ashraf Haidari

When citizens of NATO allies look at the record of failure of military interventions in Afghanistan over the past century-and-a-half, they may be tempted to ask: “What chance of success does NATO have?” People should realize, however, that comparing the present-day stabilization mission to past military adventures is not appropriate. Past foreign involvements in Afghanistan-including those of the British and Russian Empires in the 19th century, and, more recently, the Soviet Union in the late 20th century-were motivated by imperial and ideological competition. Those powers were not striving to build a stable, democratic and self-reliant society. And they certainly signed nothing like the Afghanistan Compact or the number of strategic partnership agreements that NATO member states have with the country.

Today, more than 40 nations are working together to stabilize Afghanistan and consolidate its new democracy. This truly international endeavor enjoys the overwhelming support of Afghans, who constitute an important strategic asset in the fight to contain terrorism. Thus, it is clear that NATO is in Afghanistan for different reasons altogether, including the national security of its member states. One cannot deny the real security risk NATO allies will face if Afghanistan’s stabilization efforts fail and the country once more becomes the domain of terrorists, criminals, and drug traffickers, as it was under the Taliban.

We know from 9/11 and other terrorist attacks that threats to global security are increasingly transnational in nature. Non-state actors are more dangerous today than state actors were during the Cold War when security threats primarily came from interstate hostilities centered on the ideological differences between the members of the Warsaw Pact and NATO. Third World proxy conflicts characterized the Cold War between the two ideological blocs for more than four decades, and Afghanistan featured as one of the main Cold War theaters from 1979 to 1989. However, with the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism at the end of the 80s, NATO’s Cold War role ended.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks were a tragic reminder to NATO members that despite the demise of Communism, there were still many threats posed to the West by radical forces, threats that represented a dark side of the new world order shaped by globalization, and posed a direct challenge to NATO itself. It is generally agreed that premature disengagement from countries like Afghanistan, and a failure to recognize the rising threat of terrorism, eventually contributed to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Securing Afghanistan now and beyond 2014 is one of NATO’s most important post-Cold War tasks-its raison d’être in a way-which must be strongly reaffirmed in the Brussels defense ministerial meeting this week. A firm commitment by the NATO allies to fighting and defeating the Taliban wherever they find safe sanctuaries and institutional support is the key to winning the war in Afghanistan.

In addition, NATO allies must commit to a robust program of training, equipping, and maintaining Afghanistan’s national security forces (ANSF). The annual cost of afghanizing the security sector pales before NATO’s yearly spending of more than $100 billion on their own military operations in Afghanistan. The staggering difference in cost-effectiveness between NATO and ANSF aside, it is Afghans’ foremost duty to defend their country against any external aggression, including terrorism and organized crime. And they’re already doing so, as they lead 80 percent of all military operations and provide protection for 90 percent of the Afghan population across the country.

In the meantime, NATO allies must firmly commit to the long-term implementation of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, which in many ways resembles the Marshall Plan in vision and scope. NATO allies understand that Europe could not have rebuilt on its own in the aftermath of the Second World War, under the increasing threat posed by the former Soviet Union, without external aid. Thanks in large measure to the Marshall Plan, war-ravaged Europe was able to rebuild rapidly, and today it is hard to believe that the previous century’s two devastating world wars were fought primarily on European soil.

The success of the Marshall Plan in Europe in the 20th Century is an excellent reminder for the NATO allies in the 21st century that when nations come to each other’s aid with firm and full commitment, no force-no matter how formidable-can prevent their victory if they stand together until the job is done.

Afghans have contributed significantly to the fight against terrorism and organized crime, two of the most dangerous threats to global security. Much remains to be done on their part to combat militancy, improve good governance and rule of law, and stimulate the economy, but a resolute NATO, armed with requisite security and development resources to deliver on its core mission, will be critical to securing Afghanistan. Afghans look forward to finding a strong and determined partner in the NATO alliance in the years ahead, a partner who can help finish the job started by the international community twelve years ago.

M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan’s deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.

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