NATO leader slams Afghan government

January 18, 2009

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has attacked the Afghan government over its failure to tackle corruption and inefficiency, saying that “the basic problem in Afghanistan is not too much Taliban; it’s too little good governance”.

In a strongly worded op-ed in the Washington Post, he says people in countries that have contributed troops to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan are wondering how long its operation must last, “and how many young men and women we will lose carrying it out”.

“Afghans need a government that deserves their loyalty and trust; when they have it, the oxygen will be sucked away from the insurgency,” he says. “The international community must step up its support of the elected government, and, through it, the Afghan people. But we have paid enough, in blood and treasure, to demand that the Afghan government take more concrete and vigorous action to root out corruption and increase efficiency, even where that means difficult political choices.”

The comments appear to reflect increasing frustration with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and come as President-elect Barack Obama prepares to send up to 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan to try to stabilise the country.  Other NATO members are expected to come under pressure to match the higher U.S. troop presence with greater commitments of their own.

As discussed in an earlier post, more troops means more casualties, not just because of the rise in numbers, but because of a perceived need for them to spread out among the population, using manpower rather than firepower to win over Afghans who have been alienated by civilian deaths.  That may prove hard to sell to sceptical Western populations already questioning their governments’ policies towards Afghanistan seven years after 9/11. (For an interesting round-up of articles and blogs, this website put together by those opposed to sending more troops is worth looking at.)

De Hoop Scheffer  – who calls for a regional approach to Afghanistan incorporating Pakistan and India –  says the cost of failure in Afghanistan would be ”instability in a highly unstable region; a haven for international terrorism; and massive suffering for the Afghan people”.  So given the challenges he outlines in his op-ed, what is the cost of success?

(Reuters file photos from Taloqan in Afghanistan)


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