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Historical archive

From Coherent Policy to Coordinated Practice: Are We Delivering Coherently in Afghanistan?

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Conference in Oslo, 18 November 2008

- Capacity building must be a priority of our support and assistance. Security assistance that enables Afghans to move forward towards democracy and reconstruction. Better coordination among Afghanistan’s partners, with the United Nations and the Afghan Government in the driving seat, Foreign Minister Støre said in his introduction to the conference arranged by the Ministry og Foreign Affairs and The Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

Check against delivery.

Thank you for setting this appropriate agenda – From Coherent Policy to Coordinated Practice – this title encapsulates the real challenge ahead, for all of us.

About five months ago, the Government of Afghanistan and the international community gathered in Paris to reaffirm our long-term commitment to the security and well-being of the Afghan people.

We promised to work more closely together – under Afghan leadership – to support the Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS).

The international community agreed to increase the resources it provides. We agreed to use them in a more effective way. We pledged to strengthen the coordinating role of the United Nations.

The Afghan Government, for its part, committed itself to pursuing political and economic reform, and to fighting corruption and the narcotics economy.

We all committed ourselves to improving coordination. On behalf of Norway, I stressed in the Paris Conference that if we are really serious about the need for better coordination, we have to stand the test and be prepared for more coordination. We must let ourselves be coordinated.


Five weeks ago, I visited Afghanistan. It was evident from what I saw, what I heard and what I experienced – both in Kabul and during a visit to the Faryab province – that the five months since the Paris Conference had been tough.

The security situation is still vulnerable. Large parts of Afghanistan are not affected by daily attacks of different kinds. But the point is that insecurity still hampers progress. The situation is complex. The number of civilians killed has increased. So has the number of attacks on NGOs. And aid workers are being abducted at an increasing rate.

And perhaps even more serious, the momentum from Paris has faded.

There is gloom, but not doom. Critical mistakes have been made. That should perhaps not come as a big surprise, given the extremely complex situation we face.

Still, the Afghans and the international community have not got it all wrong.

Above all, I believe we can sense a growing consensus on the road we must follow. Since I became Foreign Minister three years ago, I have witnessed a profound shift in focus – towards a broader and better common understanding of what it will take to succeed in Afghanistan.

Five key lessons:

First, the international community cannot build stability and development in Afghanistan – only the Afghans can do that. Capacity building must be a priority of our support and assistance.

Second, security assistance is still needed – and will continue to be for several years to come. But there is a need for security assistance that enables Afghans to move forward towards democracy and reconstruction.

Third, better coordination among Afghanistan’s partners, with the United Nations and the Afghan Government in the driving seat.

Fourth, reconciliation among Afghan groups, drawing more of the whole social fabric into political life based on non-violence and democratic values.

And fifth, visible progress towards more engagement and responsibility from Afghanistan’s own neighbours.

I will not go into detail on all these lessons, but let me briefly reflect on a few of them.


The Afghan Government is making progress. Not within all fields, and not as fast as we could hope, and not by pursuing well-known roadmaps as though Afghanistan were a Western European country.

2009 is election year. We have to make every effort to help the election process to succeed. Voter registration is proceeding well. The first phase has been concluded and nearly one million Afghans have registered. It is particularly encouraging that more than 35% of those registered are women.

Last week, the second phased started in the north, and here too there are promising signs. We are observing a democracy in the making.

In addition to the security challenge, the Government of Afghanistan is facing another very serious challenge – that is drought and failing harvests. This is particularly difficult as hungry, vulnerable people can easily lose what remains of their faith in the Government and turn to insurgents for help and support.

Good governance is important in principle, but even more so in practice. Afghanistan started its reconstruction at a particularly low level, with weak public institutions, little capacity and growing corruption.

Few other strategies can be more helpful for Afghanistan than capacity building of the government and public administration services. This is a long-term investment, but there is no other way.

We are seeing some progress, and the progress we observe should stimulate us to double our efforts.

The will and the ability of officials in key government positions – such as the Minister of Interior – to address problems head-on has a direct bearing on confidence among the population. It is vital that this is fully realised.

While I travelled in Faryab with Education Minister Atmar – a man we have trusted for years – he learned that he was to be appointed Minister of the Interior. We could all see – we could read it on his face – that the decision was not an easy one. A daunting responsibility, a critical task at the front line of government.

My point is that the average Afghan must be able to see that there is a visible difference –with regard to security, health, education, access to work, food and shelter. But particularly with regard to security, in terms of both political and military issues.

President Karzai – with our help as we agreed in Paris – needs to demonstrate that improvements in the fields of education, health and rural development can be multiplied, and that development can be achieved in a more concerted manner.

Here the international community is being challenged. We like to say that we need more concerted and more coordinated development efforts. But our willingness or rather our ability to be coordinated is still too weak.


So – what happened to the momentum from Paris? How are we – as donors – responding? Has the Afghan plan for reconstruction become the important instrument that we agreed it should be?

Here too, the observations are mixed. Mistakes have been made. But we need to stand by our commitments. We need to breathe new life into our partnership from Paris.

Gathered at this conference here today are representatives of the Government of Afghanistan, major donors, international organisations and NGOs. We need – all of us – to consider whether we are delivering according to what was agreed in Paris.

At the same time, we must constantly remind ourselves that progress in Afghanistan cannot be measured on present day performance alone. We also need to take the achievements of the past seven years into account.

Afghanistan is still one of the poorest countries in the world, but the situation was so much worse seven years ago. I am sure you are familiar with the statistics:

Only 9% of the population had access to basic health care five years ago. Today, 85% have access to such services.

Every year 80 000 more children survive the first five years of life, and 40 000 more newborn babies survive, due to reduced child and infant mortality rates.

7.7 million unexploded mines have been cleared.

School attendance has skyrocketed. Afghan girls are back in school.

BNI per capita has increased by 70% since 2002.

75% of the population now has access to telecommunications services. Last year there were four million mobile phone subscribers in Afghanistan, and there are 300 000 new subscribers each month, whereas in 2001, there was no GSM network in Afghanistan at all. 
On my recent brief trip to the country, I visited and laid the foundation stone of a new annex to a school for girls in Meymaneh. During the Taliban period, this school had been turned into stables for the provincial headquarters of the Taliban. Now, today it is full of joyful schoolgirls.

Norway is supporting the Afghan Government’s Equip programme for the construction of schools in the province. Mr Atmar, the outgoing Minister of Education, hopes that Faryab will be the first province in the country with full primary school coverage. We are playing a part in the efforts to fulfil that ambition. It will really be a great achievement and we support it heartily.


Stories like this need to be seen, recognised and told. They help us provide a more nuanced picture and a better understanding of the situation on the ground.

Today, seven years since the fall of the Taliban, there is common understanding that the scope and the complexity of the tasks we embarked on in Afghanistan were seriously underestimated.

We missed the chance to start effective state-building efforts, under the auspices of the United Nations, in 2002. Too late, the international community realised that security efforts needed to be followed up by dedicated and coordinated civilian efforts. The one without the other was – and is – simply not sustainable. The Paris Conference reformulated the timely call for coordinated action. We lost some time – but the situation is not hopeless.

In Paris a heavy responsibility was placed on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the UNAMA, and on Special Representative Kai Eide.

UNAMA has been called upon to lead the international civilian efforts. But UNAMA cannot succeed in this endeavour if we, the partners and donors, do not actively follow-up the coordination signals and mandates.

In some cases, this will mean relinquishing national or organisational agendas and visibility. We know how difficult this can be, to give up a national flag, or to leave our own “pet project”, or to accept that resources are being channelled according to where they are most needed.

Equally important, we have to equip the UNAMA team with the resources and the personnel needed to meet the expectations that we created in Paris.

The UN General Assembly will consider UNAMA’s budget later next month – it is unbelievable what a long time this has taken – and I hope it will ensure that Kai Eide and his team are given the resources they need to take both a leading and coordinating role. Any initiative or idea that could speed up the process of placing qualified personnel in the field would increase our possibilities of succeeding in Afghanistan.


I am glad to see that a separate session at today’s meeting will be devoted to the PRTs and their place in the Afghan donor landscape. I see many people here today with expert PRT experience.

Norway is lead nation in the PRT in the Faryab province. This PRT cooperates with the Afghan security sector on providing the level of security needed for development, and engages with governmental and non-governmental bodies in Faryab. I have seen them in action. They are doing a great job.

We are currently reviewing our efforts in Faryab in order to streamline our civilian and military cooperation. A number of other PRT countries are in the same process of rethinking. 

The PRTs have provided stability and many of them have made valuable contributions. At the same time the PRT model in itself may have been a driving force behind the donor-generated fragmentation that is still very much the norm in Afghanistan. This is due to the particular expectations and responsibilities placed on the teams by the PRT nations.

In many cases, donors feel the need to channel assistance to the provinces in which their PRTs are operating, instead of following the priorities set by the Afghan Government and UNAMA.

The paradox is, of course, that the Afghan Government has realised that – in many cases – a good way of getting additional support from donors is to ask for earmarked funding to the province or area where the donor country’s PRT is found.

Furthermore, security is – and will be – a prerequisite for effective development efforts. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether our PRT model – as it functions today – is the right answer to complex development challenges in a very insecure environment. 

We see the obvious link between security and civil development.

But – let us not confuse the mandates here. Humanitarian help should not become victim or hostage of military strategies. We need to preserve the humanitarian space in Afghanistan.


The Director of the Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG), Jilani Popal, visited Oslo two weeks ago. One of his main messages was that it is not “quick impact efforts” that Afghanistan needs most. The country needs sustained, predictable and reliable support that reflects the priorities set by the Afghan Government. As we agreed at the Paris Conference.

The IDLG is, as you know, our new Afghan partner for PRT coordination. Its role is to develop new policies for local governance and to increase cooperation between key Afghan institutions – the Ministries of Interior and Defence, the IDLG and the National Directorate of Security.

This offers new opportunities for engagement. Norway stands ready to provide active, continued support to Mr Popal’s Directorate.


Now, supporting and – if possible – enhancing development processes is complex. But we are not starting from scratch. Fifty years of experience of international development efforts have taught us valuable lessons.

One is that securing national and local ownership is essential.

Another is that building local capacity is key.

Our aim must be that when a programme is terminated, qualified Afghans stand ready to continue the work.

With the Afghan National Development Plan, the frame is set, and international assistance has to be aligned with this plan and with Afghanistan’s priorities in order to have maximum effect.

Afghan ownership and capacity-building must be the central part of any exit strategy. If we “mess around with” these golden principles, the consequences will lead to aid dependency and little progress.

But even if we succeed in pursuing this way of working, we will face obstacles. A particularly important area is justice reform and strengthening the rule of law.

Corruption is endemic – not only due to weaknesses in the justice sector, but also due to traditional practices relating to power and decision-making.

The narcotics economy puts additional pressure on integrity and loyalties. We are also witnessing that the Taliban and other insurgents are heavily involved in the drugs business in order to finance their terrorist activities.



At times, the road forward may be a difficult and narrow one. 

I talked to representatives of various human rights institutions and initiatives while I was in Kabul last month. They presented me with this dilemma: We have a democracy in the making in Afghanistan, but the problem is that this parliament often takes “the wrong decisions”.

Afghanistan recently resumed the practice of capital punishment. That, in my view, is a wrong decision. In addition, there are tighter restrictions on freedom of speech and women’s rights.

Norway is, however, no less committed to providing strong support for Afghanistan and for the strategy of “afghanisation”. The short version of a successful exit strategy is that Afghans can run a democratic Afghanistan.

The brightest hope for Afghanistan is the country’s youth. I had the opportunity to meet students from Kabul University during my visit. They came from different backgrounds, different disciplines and faculties, and both men and women took part in the discussion.

Security concerns were of course central, but in terms of their academic concerns and aspirations, their views on society, their engagement and their enthusiasm, they could have been a group of students anywhere. They represent the Afghan leadership of tomorrow, together with – I hope – a steadily increasing number of young women and men who have the opportunity to take higher education. Again – the importance of capacity building.

We acknowledge the fact that we are supporting a state and elected representatives who have different views on society and culture to us. We are not trying to impose any particular set of values or political standpoints.

We are supporting the aspirations of a nation and its people to develop a society that will be a valuable and accountable member of the world community. A society that is based on the values that this nation has chosen as a member of the UN and a responsible state. No more, no less.

Meanwhile, as part of the process towards meeting these aspirations, Afghanistan will need to take crucial steps towards reconciliation. There can be no sustainable peace without it. But this depends on the efforts of the Afghans. And this is not something that we – Western countries – can “fix”.

Finally, I would like to thank you all for attending this conference. A special thanks to the organisers, the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs – NUPI, and the newly established Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre – NOREF. 

Thank you.

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