Historical archive

The situation in Afghanistan and Norway’s civilian and military engagement

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Address to the Storting on 29 May 2012

"We are embarking on three important processes. The first is the phased transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan security forces. The second is the important long-term development cooperation between Afghanistan and the international community. The third process is the search for a political solution", said Foreign Minister Støre in his address to the Storting.

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Translated from the Norwegian

Just over a week ago, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence and I took part in the NATO summit in Chicago. Afghanistan was one of the main topics of discussion. President Karzai and all the countries contributing to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were among the participants.

The Heads of State and Government affirmed that the transition of security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces is going according to plan. This means that the NATO-led ISAF mission will be completed by the end of 2014.

The summit noted that although the nature of the military operation is changing, there will continue to be a need for some degree of international military engagement in Afghanistan beyond 2014. The military presence will be much smaller after 2014, and the focus will be on providing advice, training and support. This is in keeping with the Afghans’ own wishes.

We are embarking on three important processes. The first is the phased transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan security forces. This will mean the completion of the mission undertaken by ISAF on the basis of a mandate given by the UN Security Council in December 2001. The second is the important long-term development cooperation between Afghanistan and the international community, where the framework is now being put in place for the period after 2014. The third process is the search for a political solution that will make all Afghan groups realise that a broad-based national dialogue is the best means of promoting their interests. These three processes – military engagement, civilian development cooperation and the search for a political solution – are the three main themes of my address here today, in which I will elaborate on some of the subjects discussed in the interpellation debate on the situation in Afghanistan on 29 November 2011 and my foreign policy address on 14 February this year.

I would like to start by giving you an idea of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and an assessment of the progress being made. There is no doubt that the country is facing considerable challenges and will continue to do so in the years ahead.

The security situation is complex and difficult. The Taliban and other insurgent groups have territorial control of parts of the eastern provinces. These are areas where insurgency attacks are carried out from bases in Pakistan. The news coverage shows suicide operations, civilian losses, roadside bombs and rival warlords. In April there were massive coordinated attacks on targets in the capital and the eastern part of the country. Because of the security situation, humanitarian actors and non-governmental organisations have great difficulty gaining access to high-risk areas.

The results of our development assistance are not as good as we might have hoped either.  This is partly because government structures are still weak – at local level they are virtually non-existent – and partly because there has at times been widespread corruption.

Corruption is a major problem in Afghanistan, which ranks 180 of 183 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2011, and therefore poses a challenge in terms of delivering Norwegian assistance. It is the responsibility of the Afghan Government to combat all forms of corruption. Although we have implemented a number of measures to reduce the risk of corruption in connection with Norwegian assistance, it is difficult to ensure that all the projects in the field are adequately followed up because of the situation on the ground – above all the security situation. We are therefore tightening our requirements on the Afghan authorities and other aid recipients and are cooperating closely with other donors – including the UN and the World Bank – in order to have the best possible follow-up and control systems. This does not mean that we have eliminated the risk of corruption, but we have reduced it.

We are also seeing human rights violations in Afghanistan, and all of us are aware of the difficult situation of Afghan women, which is the subject of a photo exhibition currently being shown at the Nobel Peace Center.

However, it is important in the midst of this deluge of bad news that we step back and take a wider perspective and see long-term trends.

But the picture is not all black, as I have experienced from visiting the country and talking to representatives of the Afghan authorities, local leaders, human rights defenders and representatives of women’s organisations and civil society. Members of the Storting have met several of the same spokesmen and spokeswomen during their own visits to Afghanistan. This kind of direct contact and the support it indicates are important.

There is a different picture of Afghanistan from the one that often emerges in the debate on whether the mission is worth the effort. It is important to note that much has also improved in Afghanistan.

As we look ahead to the period beyond 2014, the main challenge will be to ensure that the results achieved so far by the Afghans and the international community are sustainable. Norway will therefore continue to be engaged in these efforts.

When the Afghan Minister of Education, Farooq Wardak, visited Norway last month, he painted a picture of his country that rarely comes to light, a picture of committed politicians and civil society representatives who have achieved good results and are working tirelessly for a better future for the people of the country.

Mr Wardak expressed deep gratitude for Norway’s support for economic and social development in the country. He repeated several times that Norwegian taxpayers’ money has helped to promote development in Afghanistan. His message was that these efforts are paying off.

Mr Wardak noted that there have never been so many children attending school as there are today: around 9 million. The Afghan Government’s aim is that all children should attend primary school by 2014. This is an ambitious aim, but it is possible. Norway will do what it can to help them achieve this. Education will continue to be a core area of Norway’s engagement in Afghanistan.

Forty per cent of primary school pupils are girls. And this is a country where, just 10 years ago, girls were not allowed to go to school at all. Young Afghan girls today have a much better chance of learning to read and write than their mothers. An increasing number of women are pursuing higher education and participating in the labour market, especially in the major cities. Today there are 118 women judges in Afghanistan, more than 10 television channels have women presenters and, while women were excluded from political posts under the Taliban regime, more than a quarter of the members of parliament are now women. Afghanistan has a higher proportion of women in parliament than any of its neighbouring countries, and is in fact above the global average as regards the proportion of women parliamentarians.

During the past decade, Afghanistan’s annual economic growth has averaged about 9 %. The starting point was poor, but the trend is in the right direction. Per capita GDP has nearly doubled since 2001. National debt is low, under 10 % of GDP.

Infrastructure all over the country has been considerably improved. Ten years ago there was no electricity in Kabul. Today large parts of the city have access to electricity. We also see signs of other kinds of changes. About half of the population, i.e. 15 million people, have mobile phone subscriptions. More and more new products are turning up in the shops. A number of television channels are available, and families watch Turkish TV series and Indian films and listen to music from all over the world on the radio. And most important of all, the people are able to freely practise traditional Afghan culture.

However, as is the case in many other developing countries, access to public goods is extremely uneven. There is a big gap between urban and rural areas and between rich and poor. There are many visible signs of social and economic progress in Faryab province, where Norway has long had a civil and military presence, and it ranks higher than many other provinces on a number of development indices.

What has Norway done during these years? Have we made a difference? I would like to touch on a couple of areas where I believe we have. One of them is child mortality, which in some provinces is the highest in the world. Norwegian NGOs have helped to train Afghan midwives for many years. Norway has financed the training of approximately one quarter of all registered midwives in Afghanistan. In this area, we have helped to improve the situation of women and save the lives of children and mothers.

Norway has also contributed extensively to rural development. Just 10 years ago, large parts of Afghanistan had no access to public services. Infrastructure – such as water supply, health care centres, roads and irrigation facilities – was in a poor state. We have helped by supporting national programmes and by cooperating directly with the authorities and NGOs in Faryab. The projects have strengthened the local communities’ own mechanisms for decision-making and implementation. Local participation and local ownership are essential for progress in this area.

Many challenges still remain, of course, but the concrete results that have been achieved during the past decade show that our efforts and those of other countries have made a difference. The Afghans would not have been able to implement such ambitious development plans without the military and civilian support of the international community. As one of the largest donor countries, Norway has made a valuable contribution to this.

I began my address by identifying three processes. The first was the transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan security authorities. The parameters for this transition process have been laid through close cooperation between the international community and Afghanistan. The NATO Summit in Chicago confirmed their agreement on these parameters and the long-term nature of the cooperation – which will not be brought to an end despite the fact that the military effort in its present form is now being concluded.

The transfer of responsibility for security is now going according to plan, and in some areas it has been stepped up. The results are good, and so far the transition process has not led to any deterioration of the security situation. The Afghan security forces’ own ability and capacity to deal with complex security challenges is gradually being strengthened, as we saw most recently when the Afghan parliament and several foreign buildings in Kabul and elsewhere in the country were the target of a coordinated series of attacks in April.

The further international military engagement in Afghanistan will be modelled on this approach.

This summer, responsibility for the third of a total of five tranches of new provinces will be transferred to the Afghans. With the exception of four districts, Faryab province will be part of this tranche. When this has been completed, the Afghan authorities will be responsible for the security of 75 % of the Afghan population. The transfer of responsibility for the fifth and last tranche of provinces will begin in summer 2013.

In keeping with what was agreed in Chicago a week ago, ISAF will continue to support the Afghan security forces even after the last tranche has been transferred next summer, but mainly in a less prominent training and support role until the end of 2014. This is being done to ensure the sustainability of the transition process. In practice, ISAF will also have to be prepared to continue combat operations until the end of 2014, but on a more limited scale.

Norway will have a much smaller military presence in Afghanistan in the years ahead. By the end of October this year, we will no longer have military forces stationed permanently in Faryab. The Norwegian-led Transition Support Group – Faryab, previously known as the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), will then be withdrawn at the request of ISAF. The Government has decided to concentrate the Norwegian military contribution in Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul.

Norway’s further military efforts will be in accordance with the plans and priorities jointly developed by NATO and Afghanistan. We will continue to do our share and to honour our commitments as a NATO/ISAF ally. The training of Afghan forces in Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul is now an important and needed contribution.  

The training of the Crisis Response Unit (CRU), in Kabul, which started on 1 April this year, is a good example of the military training Norway is providing to the Afghan security forces. As the members of the Storting will recall, we were also involved in this work a few years ago. The Norwegian special forces are among other things providing training in how to avoid unnecessary harm to the civilian population and buildings. The benefits of this training were evident in the way the Afghan Crisis Response Unit dealt with the attacks in Kabul in April this year.

The Government has decided to continue the mentoring programme for the Crisis Response Unit until the end of 2013. The Afghan special forces are doing a tremendous job in maintaining security in Kabul, and Norway’s contribution is greatly appreciated both by the Afghans and by our Allies.

It was agreed at the NATO Summit that the Alliance would continue to support the Afghan security forces after 2014, both financially and through various forms of training and assistance. It was also agreed that NATO would not establish a new combat mission in Afghanistan after 2014. At that point responsibility for this will lie with the Afghans. The specifics of NATO’s role from 2015 are yet to be clarified. Defining this role will be a key task in the time ahead.

As regards the size of the Afghan security force, Norway supports the decision to reduce it from 350 000 to 230 000 during the period 2015–17. It is estimated that such a force will cost approximately NOK 24 billion a year, and Afghanistan itself will only be able to provide about NOK 3 billion of this amount during the first few years. Subject to the Storting’s consent, Norway intends to provide approximately NOK 150 million a year during the period 2015–17 for financing the Afghan security forces, both the army and the police. This means that, as of 2015, our annual contribution to the police will be NOK 30 million higher than in the period 2010–14.

At the Chicago summit, a number of countries committed themselves to providing long-term financial support to the Afghan security forces.  We will have to consider whether Norway will contribute troops to a new NATO mission after 2014 at a later date. In any event, Norway’s participation in future operations in Afghanistan will have to be firmly based on a mandate from the UN Security Council and at the invitation of the Afghan authorities.

The second of the three processes I outlined at the beginning of my address concerns our civilian engagement in Afghanistan. There will still be a great need for development assistance in Afghanistan after security responsibility has been transferred to the Afghan authorities in 2014. This will be necessary in order both to consolidate the international efforts to build Afghan institutions during the past decade and to ensure that the Afghan authorities are able to take care of the country’s own security and development. Afghanistan has requested the international community to maintain its civilian support beyond 2014.

Representatives of the international community will gather in Tokyo for a new donor conference in early July. The purpose is to define the commitments undertaken by Afghanistan and the donor countries at the Kabul and Bonn conferences in 2010 and 2011 respectively. These commitments are part of what is generally referred to as the Kabul Process.

In the Kabul Process the donor countries have undertaken to maintain a high level of support. We have also agreed that the assistance is to be provided in accordance with Afghan plans and priorities. At least 50 % of the assistance is to be channelled through the Afghan government budget, and 80 % of this is to be earmarked for programmes that are in line with the national development plan for the country. This is a visible example of Afghan ownership.

The international community must demonstrate that it is living up to these commitments at the Tokyo Conference. This would give a clear signal to the Afghan people, the Afghan authorities and the other countries in the region that the completion of ISAF’s mission does not mean the end of the international engagement. It marks the transition to a new phase. We need to build confidence that the international community will not abandon the country, and that we will support those forces that are seeking to build a stable, secure and more developed Afghanistan.

At the request of the Afghan Government, Norway and Afghanistan have worked together to negotiate a strategic cooperation document. This partnership agreement is general and comprehensive in nature and sets out a time frame for Norway’s civilian engagement. It defines the two countries’ objectives for the cooperation in the coming years with a focus on closer political dialogue and cooperation in the areas of security, the economy and development, good governance, human rights and migration. The plan is for the partnership agreement to be signed by Prime Minister Stoltenberg and President Karzai here in Oslo in the autumn.  

The Government is of the view that, subject to the Storting’s consent, Norway should continue its civilian effort in Afghanistan with an allocation of some NOK 750 million annually for the period 2013–17. This is the annual target figure we have had for the period 2008–12. An allocation of this size will place us high on the list of like-minded countries and will show that we stand by our obligations in Afghanistan. Norway was heavily involved in Afghanistan long before the terrorist attacks in September 2001 and our aim is to remain a significant civilian actor even after the ISAF mission has been completed.  

Norway’s main priority areas will continue to be education, good governance and rural development. Women’s rights will remain a key consideration across all areas. We have expertise and experience in these fields and we are seeking to build on the progress made so far using this knowledge as a basis.     

The most important channel for Norwegian assistance will continue to be the World Bank Multi-donor Trust Fund, which disperses funds to Afghan budgets and programmes.  Norwegian assistance will also continue to be provided through the UN and NGOs. The reason for this is both the Afghan authorities’ weak capacity to absorb assistance and the flexibility this approach allows in a situation that is unpredictable, both politically and in terms of security.

To date, up to 20 % of Norwegian assistance has been earmarked for Faryab province, where our PRT has been based. There are still considerable development needs in this area. It is important to us that our work in this province, where Norway has played a leading role, does not come to an abrupt end as we now wind down our military presence. We will therefore remain in Faryab after our military forces have been withdrawn, and plan to continue our extensive civilian effort up until 2017. This is an indication of the sense of responsibility we feel towards the inhabitants of the province.   

Assistance to Afghanistan will be provided on the basis of clearly defined conditions. As part of the Kabul Process, which I mentioned earlier, the Afghan authorities have undertaken to implement concrete measures in the areas of governance, the judicial system, human rights, gender equality, children’s rights, economic and social development, peace and reconciliation efforts and the fight against illicit drugs. These obligations are real and we will consider carefully whether the Afghan authorities are fulfilling them. At the same time we must assess the political and security situation in the country on an ongoing basis. It must be possible to adjust Norway’s assistance to Afghanistan if the situation deteriorates.   

In my address in April 2011, I announced a review of Norway’s assistance to Afghanistan over the past 10 years. A full evaluation has now been carried out by Norad, in cooperation with ECORYS Nederland BV. The report will be published in the near future. 

As far as I can see, the evaluation commends Norway for its leading role in following up Afghan priorities. We were one of the first countries to channel our funds through the large multilateral trust funds that provide support to the Afghan government budget. We were also one of the first to decide that our funding should be untied, i.e. that we would not earmark funding for specific projects, but provide support in such a way that the Afghan authorities themselves are able to channel the funds to the areas where they are most needed. We make sure by means of political dialogue that we maintain a focus on our priority areas: education, good governance and rural development.

I am pleased that the evaluation report also appears to highlight Norway’s support for women’s rights and gender equality as particularly successful. This is something we can build on in the future. The evaluation report also clearly points out the fact that all transition processes take time. After so many years of war, the starting point for Afghanistan’s transition was difficult. Most of the government institutions had been destroyed and we began our assistance to the country under the most difficult conditions possible. One problem we face in terms of measuring the results of the assistance provided is that there is hardly any statistical material available from that first phase against which we can measure our efforts.  

Norad’s evaluation also illustrates how difficult it is to provide assistance to a country ridden by conflict and where the situation on the ground is very unstable. Although some positive individual results have been achieved, identifying and measuring large-scale system changes as a result of the long-term assistance is more difficult. This does not necessarily mean that there are no results, but that the tools for measuring them have been seriously deficient and the necessary evaluation mechanisms have not been in place. 

Regrettably, the report also confirms that the potential for corruption is greater when there is a substantial volume of assistance involved, as I mentioned at the beginning of my address, and that the unstable security situation makes it difficult to trace the use of funds all the way down to project level. This applies not only to development assistance, but to the entire Norwegian effort. And not only to Afghanistan, but also to other countries. It is important that we take this into account in the future.

The deficiencies identified in the evaluation are being taken seriously. We will give priority to efforts aimed at enhancing control mechanisms and improving tools for measuring results. At the same time it is important to bear in mind that providing assistance in a conflict-ridden country can never be without risk. However, we will do everything in our power to limit any risks involved.

Alongside providing long-term development assistance, we will continue our humanitarian efforts. The humanitarian challenges in Afghanistan are far-reaching and complex. Natural disasters and many years of armed conflict have brought great suffering to the population. There are 2.7 million Afghan refugees in neighbouring countries who neither can, nor want to, return until they glimpse some hope of a better future in their home country.   

The refugee problem requires a regional solution, in which Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries work together to facilitate voluntary return. In order for this to happen, the refugees must be confident that they will have a place to live and opportunities to feed their families. It is therefore encouraging that Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries are now taking the refugee situation more seriously and are working together more effectively to find lasting solutions. 

Norway provides some NOK 130 million annually in humanitarian support to Afghanistan. Where appropriate, this is channelled through the multilateral system. We also cooperate with NGOs in areas where they can demonstrate good results in the field.  

Together with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Norwegian Refugee Council provides assistance to both refugees and internally displaced persons in need of essential humanitarian assistance. We also have good experience of cooperating with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the humanitarian actor in Afghanistan that has access to the greatest number of provinces. The ICRC is making a comprehensive effort in the area of health throughout the country involving the running of hospitals and health clinics and the provision of training for mobile healthcare personnel. The ICRC maintains a dialogue with all the armed groups in Afghanistan and as a result has a unique role to play in the country. 

Following up detainees and their rights is another of the ICRC’s core tasks, as is rehabilitation of mine victims and others who have suffered war injuries. For many years Norway has provided funding for the systematic clearance of mines from the rural districts of Afghanistan.    

The results that Afghanistan has achieved in cooperation with the international community would not have been possible without the efforts of all those who have served in the country. In this context there is one group that is often overlooked. Norwegian police officers have helped train the Afghan police force in investigation, the treatment of prisoners, intelligence and other tasks. A well-functioning and loyal police force that enjoys the confidence of the population is essential for enhancing security and the rule of law. 

Now that responsibility for security is being transferred to the Afghan authorities, the Norwegian police effort is also gradually being phased out. I would therefore like to thank all the Norwegian police officers who have been involved in this work for a job well done. At the same time, I can assure the Storting that we will continue to provide financial support to the Afghan police. In fact, the greatest share of our security funding will be earmarked for the police sector.  

Although Afghanistan will be dependent on assistance for many years to come, the country has a huge economic potential. We must not lose sight of this. Afghanistan has abundant natural resources, particularly minerals, and could regain an important role as a transit country for regional and international trade, including oil and gas. The agricultural sector needs to be developed and market access improved. Infrastructure development is the key. There is still a long way to go, but we must remember that the potential is there, once the political and security situation has been stabilised.   

The third process that I would like to discuss in this address is the work being done to bring about a political solution. I would particularly like to stress the fact that a political solution is essential for ensuring Afghanistan’s future security and development.

For a long time Norway has argued that the Taliban and other insurgent groups must be involved in efforts to find a political solution. We were one of the first to point out that the conflict in Afghanistan cannot be won militarily. This is now a view that is shared internationally.  

The political solutions must be Afghan-led. Ethnic, cultural and political differences must be dealt with and resolved by the Afghans themselves. After 30 years of internal and external conflicts, this is no easy task, of course. The path towards reconciliation is long and suspicions abound across political and ethnic divides. At the same time, we know that neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Iran have their own clear interests related to a peaceful solution. This makes it all the more difficult to achieve lasting peace.

We hear about various reconciliation initiatives from time to time. It is obvious that there are several who are seeking to bring about a process of this kind. But this has proven difficult. We saw this most recently in connection with the establishment of a Taliban office in Doha, Qatar. The office has not yet opened and it is unclear whether and when it will.

Norway’s experience of peace and reconciliation processes in other conflict areas has shown that these things take time. In Afghanistan, reconciliation must take place on the basis of an inclusive process in which Afghan women and civil society are also involved.

Norway has maintained close contact with the Afghan Women’s Network and together we have launched a partnership to strengthen the role of women in the peace process. Women must be given a seat at the table and their voices must be heard.  Norway has been a key advocate for the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security. Moreover, Norway was behind the initiative to establish the position of NATO Special Representative with responsibility for following up UN Security Council resolution 1325, a proposal adopted by the Chicago summit. I welcome NATO’s greater involvement in this area.

We are also continuing our efforts to support Afghanistan’s aspiration for closer regional cooperation between neighbouring countries in the region. Stability cannot be achieved in Afghanistan unless the region itself is stable. It is therefore crucial that Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries intensify their political and practical cooperation. It is also vital that the Pakistani Government succeeds in combating extremism within its own borders.

In the light of this, it is encouraging to see the first seeds of closer cooperation in a number of areas. The countries involved in the Istanbul process are to meet in Kabul on14 June this year with a view to reaching agreement on ways to further enhance regional cooperation. Norway, as one of the supporters of this process, will play an active role in these efforts.       

Afghanistan is in the midst of a profound transition in which several parallel processes of change are taking place in a very difficult context. The political situation is fragile. The local authorities are poorly developed. President Karzai is managing to retain political control, but his position and confidence among the population has been weakened during his time in power.

Presidential elections are due to be held in 2014. At a bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Stoltenberg and President Karzai in Chicago, President Karzai clearly indicated that the necessary reforms would be implemented to ensure that the elections in 2014 are more transparent and free than the previous elections. This is encouraging. We also expect to see a peaceful transfer of political power in 2014.  But we must acknowledge the fact that a successful election will only be possible if the security situation is improved. This can only be achieved through political progress and a national reconciliation process.

All in all, there is no doubt that the challenges we are facing in Afghanistan are considerable.  It will still take time to stabilise the country and to ensure sustainable development. We have now entered a phase in which responsibility for governance and security is being transferred to the Afghan authorities. 

It is easy to point to all the difficulties and challenges that could mean that the situation in Afghanistan does not improve. I choose, however, to take an optimistic view – in the long term.  During my visits to Afghanistan I have consistently met Afghans who are engaged, who want to contribute and who firmly believe that peace and development are possible. There is a high level of commitment among Afghan women, who wish to participate in political processes. 

Finally, I would like to thank the many thousands of Norwegian men and women who have served in Afghanistan over the past 10 years and those who serving there today. I would particularly like once more to honour the memory of the Norwegian soldiers who have lost their lives in Afghanistan: Siri Skare, Andreas Eldjarn, Simen Tokle, Trond André Bolle, Christian Lian, Claes Joachim Olsson, Trond Petter Kolset, Kristoffer Sørli Jørgensen, Tor Arne Lau-Henriksen and Tommy Rødningsby.

We must provide support for soldiers who have been physically or mentally wounded while serving in Afghanistan. The efforts of all the Norwegian women and men involved have been crucial in ensuring that Afghanistan – a member of the international community – can look forward to a new future.