NATO pulls out of Afghan ministries. What's the impact?

Many Afghans say advisers create a valuable link to NATO and foreign donors, but Afghans who work close with the advisers say the training and oversight varies in quality.

Omar Sobhani/Reuters
An Afghan policeman keeps watch at a check point in Kabul on Feb. 26. Afghanistan's interior ministry said on Sunday it suspects one of its employees may have killed two US officers inside the ministry a day earlier, an attack that prompted NATO to recall all its staff from ministries.

The UN pulled its international staff out of their base in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz Monday after it came under attack by demonstrators protesting the burning of Qurans by NATO personnel last week.

The UN staff relocation comes on the heels of a NATO recall of all its personnel from government offices in Kabul after an Afghan killed two Americans Saturday in the Ministry of Interior.

While the UN relocation is likely to create challenges for the international organization, the recall of NATO advisers has the potential to provide a greater strain on the Afghan reconstruction effort.

The absence of NATO advisers, while temporary, has given Afghans time to evaluate the merits and drawbacks of having foreign advisers constantly on-hand. Many say the advisers created a valuable link to NATO and foreign donors. However Afghans who worked close with the advisers say the training and oversight varied in quality.

“Since our system is dependent on foreign assistance, the foreign advisers are key for us, because they have direct connection to funding,” says Hijratullah Ekhtyar, an independent political analyst in eastern Afghanistan.

Strengthening Afghanistan’s government institutions has long been a focus of internationals who say the creation of a strong government is vital to combating Taliban forces, especially after US and NATO troops withdraw in 2014.

Their absence is unlikely to create problems in the short-term, but Afghan bureaucrats say it could create serious challenges if they don’t return in the coming weeks.

With hot-button issues such as civilian casualties, foreign advisers inside the Ministry of Interior and Defense played a key role passing information and concerns between both sides.

“They were playing the role of a bridge between international community and the Afghan government,” says an Afghan employee at the Ministry of Counter-narcotics who asked not to use his real name due to the sensitivity of the situation.

Some 90 percent of the Afghan government’s budget relies on foreign support, and international donors finance the majority of development projects.

Although most Afghans say internationals are important as intermediaries, some have questioned whether trainers bring specific skill sets relevant to those Afghans they are tasked with advising.

“I think that most of the time they send unspecialized professionals as advisers. Seldom do they send professional people who specialize in a particular job. That’s why it does not help a ministry that much,” says Asad Sahil, who works at the Ministry of Agriculture.

US officials have emphasized that the protests will not affect America’s commitment to Afghanistan or result in an accelerated withdraw. NATO advisers are expected to return to working with their Afghan counterparts after a security assessment of their working conditions.

Monday saw the latest fallout from the Quran burning when a suicide bomber targeted a NATO base in Jalalabad killing at least nine Afghans. Since protests began last week, demonstrations and revenge attacks have claimed the lives of nearly 40 people, including four US service members. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for calm and warned that on-going demonstrations could aid the insurgency.

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