Afghanistan was the focus of much debate at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, meeting in Edinburgh this week. The Assembly, which brings together 350 parliamentarians from 28 NATO countries twice a year, heard General Sir Peter Wall, British Commander in Chief of Land Forces, admit that progress in Afghanistan had been slow and that this was affecting public support for the conflict.
The General also endorsed the idea of engaging select elements of the Taliban in political dialogue. “We want to see the reconcilable Taliban elements integrated, and we want to see the irreconcilable dealt with” said Sir Peter, noting that no counter-insurgency has ever been successful without such an engagement, and that similar initiatives were in fact already taking place at tribal level.
Retired German general Klaus Naumann criticised the Alliance’s reactive attitude towards US policy on Afghanistan. General Naumann went on to underline that NATO should aim to find “an Afghan solution” to establish a functioning state in the country.
“Simply sending in more NATO troops cannot be the solution” he said. “A viable strategy should build on past successes and, coupled together with a counterinsurgency strategy, should be oriented fundamentally around reconstruction”. This would include “working jointly with moderate elements” of the Taliban, of whom he estimated “no more than ten percent” were irreconcilable radicals. The general’s characteristically outspoken presentation was warmly received by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s political committee, and frequently interrupted by applause.
Professor Paul Wilkinson, Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV) at the University of St Andrews, said that it would be a “disaster” to withdraw troops from the country as this would allow the network to use it as a base for its international terrorist activities. Success in Afghanistan depended not simply on sending more troops, but required a holistic strategy, he pointed out.
Such a strategy must include political and economic measures, reinforced dialogue with moderate Muslim groups, intelligence gathering and broad and robust counter-proliferation measures to prevent acquisition of biological and nuclear weapons. “I believe that a holistic strategy has not been achieved yet but unless we do, we are not likely to win this struggle in the long run” he concluded.