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Can Afghanistan be saved?

An interview with NATO Secretary-General Anders Rasmussen.

November 3, 2009

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke last week in Brussels with journalist Mina Al Oraibi. They discussed the cooperation of Muslim countries in the war in Afghanistan.

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Mina Al-Oraibi: What are the main challenges that face the Arab world and NATO?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: The countries within the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative share our interests in stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan, because if Afghanistan is left behind, there is the risk of it [instability] spreading to the region, not to speak of the risk of destabilizing neighboring Pakistan, a nuclear power.

Oraibi: Many people in the Arab world feel this is not their fight, not their war. What steps can you take to further convince people and make them buy in to the importance of Afghanistan?

Rasmussen: If it became visible that countries with a Muslim background also contributed to our mission in Afghanistan, then it would become even more clear, which is a fact, that this is not about religion but a fight against extremism and terrorism. Already now, a couple of countries with Muslim backgrounds contribute to our mission in Afghanistan. It is very important for me to stress that this is definitely not about religion; it is about protecting the Afghan people against terrorism and extremism.

Oraibi: How exactly can Muslim countries support the effort there?

Rasmussen: There is a wide range of possibilities, from military contributions to financial contributions. In particular, I would point to the importance of supporting our training mission in Afghanistan, because this is what I would call the headline of our mission in Afghanistan – the transition to an Afghan lead across the board from security to development.

As far as security is concerned, it means we have to develop the capacity of the Afghan security forces to educate and train Afghan soldiers and Afghan police so that the Afghans can become capable to take lead responsibility for their own security. Then we could gradually hand over security, province by province, to the Afghans themselves. To that end, we need training personnel, but we also need money to finance an increased number of Afghan soldiers and police.

This is the long-term perspective: we will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to finish our job, but, of course, it is not forever. Our mission will end when the Afghans can take over the responsibility themselves; therefore we need to step up our endeavors within training of the Afghan security forces, so we will need trainers and we will need money.

Oraibi: After eight years, for many it is still not clear what the objective is in Afghanistan. In Washington, discussion on the way forward is ongoing for the Obama administration. Does that review in Washington impact the day-to-day developments in Afghanistan?

Rasmussen: Of course, the United States is the lead nation, the biggest contributor (of forces in Afghanistan) and therefore obviously the whole world awaits the American decision. It's more important to make the right decision than to hurry. So I recognize the need for thorough analysis in Washington. But, to my mind, there is no doubt about the way forward: It is to ensure a stronger Afghan ownership.

I have already spoken about the security area, but I also think we should ensure a stronger Afghan ownership in the area of civil development. To that end, we need a credible government in Kabul. We must hold that new government to account. We must make sure that they step up their fight against corruption, that they provide good governance and make efficient use of resources and deliver basic services to the Afghan people.

All in all, the international community needs a reliable partner in Kabul. I think there is a need for a new compact, a new contract, between the international community and the new government in Afghanistan; a new contract in which we make it clear that it is a prerequisite for continued international commitment to Afghanistan that the Afghan government provides good governance in the broad sense of the word.