With just three years to go before NATO is due to end its combat mission in Afghanistan, debate is focusing on what must be done on the civilian side to ensure the success of the transition to Afghan control.
In the SDA evening debate, NATO's top civilian official in Kabul Simon Gass stressed the need to build support for the transition among the Afghan population by improving governance and the rule of law. He said the international community needs to reassure Afghans that it won't abandon them after 2014. However in a sober assessment of the country's prospects, speakers emphasized the need to manage expectations. They acknowledged that 2014 would find Afghanistan's democracy, security and governance all in a fragile state.
“One thing I am sure of is that it's not going to be pretty,” said Gass. “It's not going to leave Afghanistan being a modern liberal democracy, because that is just not what Afghanistan is.” Speakers expressed doubts about the capacity of the Afghan authorities to take charge and there were differences over the extent civil society can positively influence the transition.
“We have grounds for concern for the basis of the transition, namely the handover to the Afghan government,” said David Tirr, head of the Afghan and Pakistan division at the EU's External Action Service. “There's a lack of confidence in the sustainability of the system.” While many stressed the need for outreach to elements within the Taliban who were willing to negotiate, there was a broad admission that so far that policy has yielded little.