NATO Riga Summit: Let aid agencies do their job in Afghanistan


NATO should do what it does best - support the security sector and keep the peace - so that aid agencies can do what we do best - deliver protection and assistance to civilians in need, the Norwegian Refugee Council urges upon the convening of the NATO Riga Summit in Latvia.

Kabul, 28 November 2006 - Upon the convening of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (NATO) Riga Summit in Latvia(28 - 29 November 2006) the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has called upon Member States to dramatically revamp NATO's security strategy in Afghanistan. According to NRC and other aid agencies across the country, NATO should play a significant but circumscribed role in Afghanistanin accordance with the organisation's mandate and comparative advantage. "NATO should do what it does best - support the security sector and keep the peace - so that aid agencies can do what we do best - deliver protection and assistance to civilians in need," said Ann Kristin Brunborg, NRC's Regional Resident Representative responsible for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. "The Riga Summit is a crucial opportunity to influence how the international community does business in Afghanistan. Five years after the fall of the Taliban and with NATO now at the security helm it's time for a spectacular shift in engagement," she continued.

Afghanistancan not be made peaceful through a combination of military assistance, donor-driven aid, and Western-style democracy which fails to attend to the history, society and culture of Afghanistan- a country that has witnessed innumerous foreign interventions over time. "We want NATO to take an approach which privileges the human security*of Afghans. Our beneficiaries tell us everyday that there will never be a military solution here. It's time for us all to start listening to the Afghan people," said Brunborg.

Security sector reform is an urgent priority in Afghanistan. NATO has a strong capacity to assist, including by calling for greater civil defence commitments from Member States and by coordinating security actors on the ground. Police and defence reform and capacity building should be complimented by an increased investment in other aspects of the rule of law, including so that alleged war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity are justly brought to trial. "A professional police force and Afghan army that has the means and confidence to tackle criminality and armed conflict is urgently needed. We have strongly welcomed the Government of Norway's commitment to intensify efforts to build up the police and judiciary and we want other NATO Member States to learn from and apply this approach," said Brunborg.

Strategies adopted by some NATO forces in Afghanistanwhich include building relationships with warlords and commanders should pay due respect to the broader and often sinister consequences. Failure to attend to human rights violations and abuses past and present is seriously compromising peace and security in Afghanistan. This is an area where NATO Member States can and should play a more principled role.

In the south and east, international humanitarian law (IHL) must be upheld at all times. Insurgents must end all homicide (suicide) bombings which constitute crimes against humanity. There can be no impunity. Foreign forces must refrain from using unnecessary and disproportionate force, collective punishment, and inhumane or degrading treatment. Transparent and accountable investigations of all such crimes must take place. "The killing of civilians by foreign forces is seized upon by insurgents for propaganda purposes. This seriously undermines the force protection of NATO peace operations in more stable areas. It also threatens the safety and security of our beneficiaries and our staff, especially when such killings spur communal unrest," said Brunborg. "We have observed that the engagement of NATO forces in peace and combat operations simultaneously is blurring local perceptions of the reasons behind foreign intervention in Afghanistan. There is a growing concern amongst Afghans that NATO forces are not here to keep the peace but to wage a war," she continued.

Humanitarian access and humanitarian space must be better protected in Afghanistan. All NATO forces must respect the tried and tested principles of humanity, independence and impartiality as expressed in the Red Cross/NGO Code of Conduct. A clear distinction between military and civilian activities must be instituted. NRC is working with the Norwegian Government and Norwegian NATO forces towards promoting exemplary common terms of reference for all Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). "The PRT Handbook is a good starting point and we look forward to developing best practice civil-military liaison at the coal face, including by devising a set of operational Civil-Military Guidelines. We hope our eventual interaction model proves so successful it is rolled out across the country. We believe the time for robust coordination - not collaboration or cooperation but coordination - is now. The Afghan people deserve no less than our best efforts," said Brunborg.

NATO Member States should ensure that Official Development Assistance to Afghanistanis not used to fund PRTs or other forms of military assistance essentially founded in force protection and 'hearts and minds' campaigning. The OECD Development Assistance Committee's eligibility criteria determine that development aid should focus on increasing the capacity of Afghans to overcome poverty and participate fully in their society. Such aid should not be diverted towards military or parallel strategic objectives. "The almost incontestable working assumption in Afghanistanseems to be that protection and assistance delivered through military means brings 'peace dividends', including of a strategic nature. There is, however, a lack of empirical evidence proving this grand ideal. With eleven times more cash being spent on military assistance than development aid in Afghanistan, that's one raucously expensive hypothesis," said Brunborg.

Over the past five years, the international community has spent more than US$82.5 billion on military assistance to Afghanistanyet in comparison only US$7.3 billion has gone into development aid expected to revive one of the poorest nations on the planet. "If NATO Member States really want to see a change for the better in Afghanistan, they should start pushing human security rather than national security agendas motivated by the 'Global War on Terror'. NATO could play a formidable role here in building a nation where instability is a thing of the past but only if Member States demarcate NATO's role wisely in accordance with the express wishes of the Afghan people. We think taxpayer-funded combat strategies in the south and east are outrageously costly and short-sighted. It's time to sit down at the table, negotiate with all parties including non-state actors, and let NRC and other aid agencies get on with helping Afghans help themselves. It's their future and their voices must be heard, including at the Riga Summit," said Brunborg.

For more information, including to arrange an interview with Ann Kristin Brunborg, NRC Regional Resident Representative please contact Kirsten Zaat, NRC Regional Protection and Advocacy Advisor based in Kabul on +93 (0)700 304 36 (m) or email

*The concept of human security focuses on protecting individuals and communities from threats and risks associated with violence, poverty, unequal wealth distribution and human rights violations and abuses more generally. Aid agencies believe that the key to ensuring a prosperous future for Afghanistan lies in eschewing traditional national security policy agendas which over-emphasise military intervention in order to reduce risks including where deterrence fails in 'post-conflict' scenarios. Rather than focusing on the use of force aid agencies would like to see the North AtlanticTreaty Organisation and other relevant stakeholders place more effort into utilising both traditional and innovative non-coercive methods which attend to the protection and assistance concerns of Afghans. Human security requires the Afghan people to be at the centre of their own futures.