EU foreign policy in relation to EC selections

November 28, 2009

First, a few quotes that relate to selection of EU’s top officials:

Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe. (Mr Van Rompuy)

If the point of the Lisbon Treaty was to create a more prominent face for Europe, the result on Thursday was the opposite. It appeared to be a political deal that would do little to reduce the power, stature and influence of big nations or their foreign ministers. (New York Times)

It is jaw-dropping. It is the end of ambition for the E.U. — really disappointing. (Olivier Ferrand, president of Terra Nova, a center-left research institute in France)

How well does the selection process itself mirror democratic values and transparency – everybody can estimate.

Before last EU Parliament elections I was debated the following idea in my mind and in my article:

Protesting over the inability of their politicians to elect a city mayor more than five months after the last elections, local residents in Mostar – Bosnia-Herzegovina – brought a donkey to demonstrations last week, proposing the animal be the city’s new Mayor. (Lets elect donkey Parliament)

The appointments may be good or bad depending which European perspective one likes most. Besides EC bureaucracy and puppet parliament we now have two more officials without authority, respect and proven skills at top level international politics. This means that big players are still calling to London, Berlin and Paris instead of Brussels. For euroskeptics this guarantees that EU will not be a key player in international politics its role will be controlling citizens with directives in small details, an discussion forum for joint economical actions.

In relation to fieldwork of EU foreign policy more interesting selection was the post of enlargement taken by Czech EU affairs minister Stefan Fuele. Already important position is now even more strong as neighbourhood policy is added under single hat. This means that sc. EU’s Eastern Partnership program including cooperation with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, will be coordinated with enlargement procedure which is going on in western Balkans and with Turkey and Iceland.

From my point of view this could preindicate a possible search of “third way” between EU member- and non-membership with some innovative model of “privileged partnership” discussed especially with case of Turkey. The model – when first created – could be copied also with some other countries which now are in enlargement process or included in Eastern Partnership program. Anyway with pragmatic tasks Mr. Fuele’s phone may ring more than of Mr. Rompuy’s or Mrs. Ashton’s phones.

Kosovo – an captured independence

November 26, 2009

Free movement is one fundamental human rights not only in one’s own country but also abroad. While speaking about Balkans I earlier have highlighted (e.g. “Forgotten Refugees – West Balkans“) the situation of Serb refugees or IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) who can not return to their original homes in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina or Kosovo. The fear is restricting also movement of Serbs living behind barbed wire in Kosovo enclaves. Besides refugees and IDPs also ordinary citizens can have restricted movement depending which passport they hold.
Visa restrictions play an important role in controlling the movement of foreign nationals across borders. They are also an expression of the relationships between individual nations, and generally reflect the relations and status of a country within the international community of nations.

Now a discussion paper made by European Stability Initiative (ESI) poppet to my eyes describing visa regulations in Kosovo with quite surprising outcome – people from all ethnic groups living in province can go visa free only to five countries while even people with Afghanistan passport (ranked as country which has the least travel freedom in the world) can go to 22 countries visa free. And this happens in Europe, in region which is on the road to EU membership, in province where EU has squandered billions of Euro to build international standards.


On the table below I have collected data from Henley & Partners ‘Visa Restriction Index’ 2008. I included rankings of top and lowest three ranks, ranks of Balkan and BRIC countries. From ESI paper I added Kosovo province (Kosovo is part of Serbia according UNSC resolution 1244/99, the current status can be described as international protectorate).

Rank Passport of country Visa free access no
1 Denmark 157
2 Finland, Ireland, Portugal 156
3 Belgium, Germany, Sweden, USA 155
14 Slovenia 139
23 Brazil 122
25 Bulgaria 116
26 Romania 115
29 Croatia 108
53 Russia 60
62 Serbia, Montenegro 50
72 Bosnia-Herzegovina 40
75 India 37
76 Albania 36
79 China 33
87 Iran 25
88 Iraq 23
89 Afghanistan 22
90 Kosovo 5

In February 2008 Kosovo declared independence. France was the first EU member state to recognize the new state, followed by Germany, Great Britain, and all but five other EU member states (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain). The new Kosovo passport, first issued by the Kosovo Government in July 2008, is currently one of the least useful travel documents ever designed. Its holders can travel to only 5 countries visa free: neighbouring Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia, Turkey, and Haiti.

Latest developments

In my earlier article “EU’s visa freedom dividing Balkans” I described how “European perspective” is applied different ways in West Balkans. Briefly of the five regional states involved in the visa-liberalisation process, Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro have been approved for visa-free travel within the EU, as of January 2010. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania have been told that they might receive EU visa-free status later. Kosovo, on the other hand, has not been included in the process, as five of the 27 members of the EU have not recognised Kosovo’s independence.

In December 2008 the EU dispatched a Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) to Kosovo. It currently fields more than 1,622 EU and 1,021 local staff (total: 2,643). With an annual budget of over Euro 200 million it is the biggest EU mission of its kind ever launched. Its objective is to assist the development of Kosovo’s security and judicial institutions.
Schengen process, unilateral declaration of independence and EULEX raised expectations among Kosovo Albanians. However after civil war and these events Kosovo anyway remains one of the most isolated places on earth. While looking backwards the near history of region the change is quite drastic – some 20 years ago citizens of Yugoslavia could travel relatively free anywhere.
In August 2008 Serbia started issuing biometric passports, an EU roadmap requirement. A lucky 7,141 Kosovars received one. But in 2009 the European Commission asked Serbia to stop the issuance to Kosovars until a specific ‘Coordination Directorate’ at the Ministry of the Interior in Belgrade would be set up as the only body authorised to provide Kosovo residents with passports. Since the issuing authority is always mentioned in passports, this would make the passports of Kosovo residents distinguishable – and exclude their holders from visa free travel. In June 2009 Serbia thus stopped issuing biometric passports to Kosovo residents (including Kosovo Serbs).

Today’s outcome is the Commission proposal to add Kosovo to the Schengen ‘Black List’ as a territory on whose status the EU cannot yet agree (i.e. under UN Security Council resolution 1244), next to the Palestinian Authority and Taiwan. And the Commission did not even mention the possibility of a visa liberalisation process for Kosovo.

More from my main source ESI document.

Some other peculiarities

The wording of the European Commission proposal of 15 July 2009 stresses that visa free travel for Kosovars constitutes an overwhelming security risk. In the words of the Commission:

Kosovo under UNSCR 1244/99 shall be added to Annex I of Regulation so that persons residing in Kosovo shall be submitted to the visa requirement. This proposal is motivated exclusively by objectively determined security concerns regarding in particular the potential for illegal migration stemming from and transiting through Kosovo under UNSCR 1244/1999. This is without prejudice to the current status of Kosovo under UNSCR 1244/1999.

This ‘security risk’ idea, supported by some influential member states, would explain the Commission’s insistence on withholding visa free travel even from those Kosovo citizens equipped with new biometric Serbian passports – as opposed to withholding it from holders of Serbian biometric passports from any other country in the world (such as Bosnia and Herzegovina).
One other peculiarity related to country status visa freedom connection is the case of Taiwan. At this very moment, a serious visa dialogue between the European Commission and the Republic of Taiwan is under way. Taiwan has not been recognized by so much as a single EU member state. And yet, this is not seen as an obstacle. In mentioned Henley & Partners ‘Visa Restriction Index’ 2008 Taiwan has rank 54 and county’s passport holders can travel visa free to 59 countries.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is another strange example in Balkans. While most Bosnian Croats already have Croatian passports (with access to 108 countries) and since Republika Srpska residents can apply for and obtain Serbian passports (with access to 50 countries now and more 2010 after White list implementation), the Bosniaks with passport of Bosnia-Herzegovina can travel visa free only to 40 countries and will so far stay in Black list.

In Europe Pridnestrovie – aka Transnistria aka Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublica (PMR) – may be a country which passport has less use abroad than Kosovo passport as no country has recognised its independence. The region has practically been independent – if not recognized – state already over 17 years. Transdnistria has all statehood elements, more developed than e.g. Kosovo’s, its economy is relatively good with export to over 100 countries and it can manage without UN seat. The bright side of story is the fact that people living in Pridnestrovie however can use their Russian or Moldovan passports for travels abroad. More about Kosovo-Pridnestrovie comparison one may find from my article “Transnistria follow-up”.

Bottom line

In my earlier article “EU’s visa freedom dividing Balkans” I concluded following:

There is also well based arguments that the EU is isolating three mainly Muslim European states/regions – Albania, BiH and Kosovo – and Turkey as some in the EU fear the presence of such a large, Muslim community inside traditionally Christian Europe. Of course EU denies political aspects and highlights only the technical ones but from Balkan perspective the impression can differ.

Visa restrictions also are reflecting the political situation of the time e.g. some 20 years ago citizens of Yugoslavia could travel relatively free, but the breakup wars changed situation completely.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina the EU’s message now weakens already non-existent national identity and opposes EU’s earlier multi-ethnic ideals. In Kosovo some NGOs send a letter to EU where they state that Kosovo`s exclusion from the visa-liberalisation process threatens to transform Kosovo “into a ghetto without any way out”.
EU and international community have guided and supervised these regions towards “European standards”. So has EU failed with this task as those countries without outside supervision are getting visa-freedom earlier?

Sources of this article:

ESI Discussion Paper: Isolating Kosovo? Kosovo vs Afghanistan 5:22

European Stability Initiative (ESI) is a non-profit research and policy institute, created in recognition of the need for independent, in-depth analysis of the complex issues involved in promoting stability and prosperity in Europe. ESI was founded in June 1999 by a multi-national group of practitioners and analysts with extensive experience in the regions it studied.

Henley & Partners has analyzed the visa regulations of all the countries and territories in the world. It has created an index which ranks countries according to the visa-free access its citizens enjoy to other countries.

My earlier article Visa rank and the western Balkans

The Nabucco-South Stream race intensifies

November 15, 2009

The race between the two EU’s eastern gas pipelines is going on while next winter can again show some supply problems via Ukraine. South Stream got latest boost on 11th November 2009 as Russia’s Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko and Slovenian Economy Minister Matej Lahovnik signed an agreement on the passage of the South Stream gas pipeline across Slovenian territory. Same time shareholders in the Nabucco have started talks with two European top lenders over borrowing almost €1.5 billion for the pipeline’s construction; a €5.6 billion loan is needed for the construction first stage of the project and the shareholders have also started talks with two credit insurers. Besides loan Nabucco still desperately is searching gas for its planned pipe.

With South Stream Russia is looking a more reliable route for its gas exports to Europe as it bypasses Ukraine and Belarus, where price disputes have in the past led to gas shortages. EU Commission tries with Nabucco provide a supply of gas not subject to Russian control.

The competition

The competition over gas is coming harder. In my article “New Player in Caspian Sea Power Corridor” I described how China has came to game to take big share of Turkmenistan gas.

For contest between EU’s Nabucco and Russia’s South Stream China’s actions favor later. Today’s arrangements are securing gas for South Stream while Nabucco still is searching supply. It is more clear that Nabucco should be filled with Iraqi and/or Iranian gas and political aspects related to this may delay finding(private) investors and the implementation of project as whole. In bottom line while Russia is taking its part from old gas fields and China from old and new gas fields the Nabucco pipe still is more than half empty.

More about this comparison one may find from my post “EU’s big choice – Nabucco or South Stream?“.


From 2015 South Stream is scheduled to take gas into the EU via Bulgaria. A northern branch ends up in Italy via Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and eventually Austria. A southern route takes the gas through Greece and under the Adriatic Sea to Italy. With Slovenia Russia has all the necessary European partners for us to be able to complete its project. During Summer 2009 there was discussions if South Stream could pass Bulgaria. Russia however agreed on 6th August 2009 with Turkey about energy cooperation with South Stream and also development of Blue Stream pipeline between Russia and Turkey under Black Sea so South Stream has secured also an alternative route. After that the discussions between Bulgaria and Russia got a new boost.



Austria has officially backed Nabucco even some of Austrian companies are also partners in South Stream. On 11th Nov. 2009 Russia and Austria had meeting. PM Putin said after talks with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann that they agreed to draft an agreement on cooperation in South Stream. Faymann said South Stream is in Austria’s interests and that Austria’s government had given a mandate to start negotiations two weeks ago. He said Nabucco and South Stream shouldn’t be viewed seen as competitors: “We believe that this is diversification as well as a chance to make the energy supply more secure,” Faymann said. More in CNBC news.

Bottom line

Russia made already on May 2009 a proposal including the South Stream gas pipeline to pump natural gas from Russia to the Balkans and onto Europe in a list of EU priority projects. The U.S./EU backed Nabucco project had been included in the list, but South Stream not yet. From my point of view I would like to see EU to change priority status from Nabucco to South Stream. Nabucco could still be kept alive in case to wait stabilisation in the Middle-East.


Forgotten Refugees – West Balkans

November 10, 2009

The refugee question is of paramount importance in Balkans – still. Beginning 1991, political upheavals – such as the breakup of Yugoslavia – displaced millions of people. Officially one part of these people are refugees meaning that they have escaped to other country, one part is “internally displaced persons” (IDPs) meaning that they have escaped from their home village/-town but still are in the same country than before.

In contrast to the other regions, in Europe the refugee population increased slightly (+2%). This raise can partly be attributed to the figures from Montenegro in which 16,000 people from Kosovo (Serbia), previously reported as IDPs, were reclassified as refugees. Similarly, armed conflict in Georgia forced some 135,000 people to flee their homes in 2008; by the end of the year, an estimated 293,000 were considered internally displaced persons in Georgia, including 49,200 people in an IDP-like situation.


As source I have used UNHCR report 16th June 2009 and “Internal Displacement in Europe and Central Asia” report made by UNCHR and The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), established in 1998 by the Norwegian Refugee Council. To table below I have collected the numbers of refugees and IDPs in western Balkans; the sum total includes also asylum-seekers, stateless etc. persons.

Country Refugees IDPs Total
Albania 65 0 87
Bosnia-Herzegovina 7257 124529 194448
Croatia 1597 2497 33943
(FRY) Macedonia 1672 0 2823
Montenegro 24741 0 26242
Serbia 96739 225879 341083

Most of Montenegro refugees – 16259 – fled from Kosovo. Nearly all of Serbia’s IDPs fled also from Albanian mayority parts of Kosovo province.

The table above is maybe surprising to those who have the picture – made by western mainstream media – in their minds, that (only) Serbs were making ethnic cleansing. In reality today the Serbs are the biggest victims of Balkan wars.

Behind of the numbers

Bosnian war (1992-95) included massive transfer of populations so it was possible to draw new boundaries according ethnic groups. Armed conflict between Yugoslav, Croatian and Bosnian forces and militias, accompanied by massive human rights abuses and violations, led to the displacement of over a million people and the creation of ethnically homogeneous areas within the newly independent Bosnia and Herzegovina. By 2008, almost 600,000 people had returned to their places of origin, and the government reported that 124,600 people remained as IDPs.

Dayton Agreement 1995 created federation like Bosnia with entities according these lines so situation with IDPs in Bosnia-Herzegovina is quite stable.Under Annex VII of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, support to durable solutions has focused almost exclusively on the return of displaced people to their places of origin to the exclusion of other durable solutions, as any support to local integration was perceived as cementing the effect of the war and the “ethnic cleansing” which motivated the displacement.

In 2003, the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees took over from the international community the responsibility to implement Annex VII , and elaborated a National Strategy for Implementation of Annex VII which still focused mainly on return. In 2008 however, the Ministry revised this strategy, and from 2009, though the emphasis remains on return, it recognizes the need to compensate people for lost property (instead of a sole focus on restitution) and to assist the most vulnerable who cannot or do not want to return, thereby providing de facto support to local integration.

Between 1991 and 1995, 220,000 ethnic Croats and subsequently up to 300,000 ethnic Serbs were displaced by armed conflict in Croatia. Since then almost all the Croat IDPs have returned to their homes, while most of the Serbs displaced have resettled in Serbia or in the majority-Serb Danube region of Croatia.Since the end of the confl ict, only one third of Croatian Serb IDPs and refugees have been able to return.

In Serbia the refugee problem came when Serbs were expelled from East Croatia and Croatian Krajina. The IDP problem is a follow-up of Kosovo conflict when some 200.000 Serbs and some thousands of Roma were expelled from there to northern Serb-dominated part of province or to Serbia. During Nato bombings also Kosovo Albanians – about 700.000 – escaped from the province but most of them have returned back.

While new displacement was avoided, the rate of return decreased significantly in 2008 from an already low level, as most IDPs waited to evaluate the approach of Kosovo authorities towards Kosovo Serbs and other non-Albanian communities. Those who already returned to Kosovo struggle to find livelihood opportunities, notably because of widespread discrimination against Serbs and Roma. Local integration opportunities for Kosovo Serb IDPs are scarce since they live in complete isolation from Kosovo institutions. Most of them reside in enclaves relying on a parallel system of education, policing, and health care supported by Serbia. Security concerns have prevented them from returning to their repossessed property. Because of their limited freedom of movement and the discrimination they have faced, IDPs’ access to land and employment has been very limited. The most vulnerable IDPs are Roma people in both Serbia and Kosovo, who have specific protection needs because of their social marginalisation and lack of civil documentation, which prevents them from registering as IDPs and limits their access to housing assistance and other social benefits.

Tensions in Macedonia between ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians culminated in violent confl ict in 2001 which displaced over 171,000 people, 74,000 of them within the country. Since then, over 99 per cent have returned and only around 770 people remained displaced. Most of those still displaced in 2008 were ethnic Macedonians or Serbs who did not feel safe to return to the Albanian-dominated Lipkovo-Aracinovo area.

Some remarks from my point of view

  • International administration and sackful of money does not guarantee better living conditions for refugees nor other vulnerable groups. One of the cruellest example I earlier described in my article UN Death camps, EU money, local negligence
  • Some 5 % of IDPs in Serbia is planning to return to their original hometowns partly because their property is occupied by Albanians. In Bosnia-Herzegovina property issues have mostly solved and refugees/IDPs have got rights to their original flats/houses, but in Croatia the Serbs lost their homes without rights nor compensation.
  • While in Kosovo the situation is frozen like the overall situation in province too elsewhere there is fears that the progress may go backwards. In Bosnia-Herzegovina ethnic tensions for some reasons are rising e.g. between Croats and Bosnian Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina, while earlier these tensions were mostly between Serbs and other ethnic groups. This may be related to rising of conservative Wahhabism in region and tendency of total collapse of state as it is today. More about this in my article “Bosnia Collapsing?
  • To solve refugee and IDP problem in western Balkans there is a need of massive housing programme especially in Serbia and this can probably be implemented with help of international donors. Housing activities should also be supported by economical development programmes to decrease unemployment figures and social problems common in locations with big share of refugees/IDPs.
  • I think that the revised strategy implemented in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 2008 has better change to be successful than the earlier attempts. The new approach recognizes the need to compensate people for lost property (instead of a sole focus on restitution) and to assist the most vulnerable who cannot or do not want to return, thereby providing de facto support to local integration. This strategy should be copied to Serbia/Kosovo too. For example since 2003, the European Commission has allocated over €30 million for minority communities throughout Kosovo and still the return numbers are quite modest; the same money invested to housing in Serbia could achieve better results.

Global fact box


There were some 42 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2008.

This includes 15.2 million refugees, 827,000 asylum-seekers (pending cases) and 26

million internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Nearly 25 million people – 10.5 million refugees and 14.4 million IDPs – were

receiving protection or assistance from UNHCR at the end of 2008. These numbers

are similar to 2007.

In 2008, UNHCR identified some 6.6 million stateless persons in 58 countries. The

Office estimated that the overall number of stateless persons worldwide was far

higher, about 12 million people.

Some 604,000 refugees repatriated voluntarily during 2008. Repatriation figures have

continued to decrease since 2004. The 2008 figure is the second-lowest in 15 years.

More than 839,000 people submitted an individual application for asylum or refugee

status in 2008. UNHCR offices registered nine per cent of those claims. More than

16,300 asylum applications were lodged by unaccompanied and separated children in

68 countries. With one quarter of applications globally, South Africa is the largest

recipient of individual applications in the world.

UNHCR presented 121,000 refugees for resettlement consideration by States. More

than 67,000 refugees were resettled with UNHCR’s assistance during 2008.

According to Government statistics, 16 countries reported the admission of 88,800

resettled refugees during 2008 (with or without UNHCR assistance). The United

States of America accepted the highest number (60,200 during its Fiscal Year).

Women and girls represent on average 49 per cent of persons of concern to UNHCR.

They constitute 47 per cent of refugees and asylum-seekers, and half of all IDPs and

returnees (refugees). Forty-four per cent of refugees and asylum-seekers are children

below 18 years of age.

Developing countries are host to four fifths of the world’s refugees. Based on the data

available for 8.8 million refugees, UNHCR estimates that half of the world’s refugees

reside in urban areas and one third in camps. However, seven out of ten refugees in

sub-Saharan Africa reside in camps.

Pakistan is host to the largest number of refugees worldwide (1.8 million), followed

by the Syrian Arab Republic (1.1 million) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (980,000).

Afghan and Iraqi refugees account for almost half of all refugees under UNHCR’s

responsibility worldwide. One out of four refugees in the world is from Afghanistan

(2.8 million) and Afghans are located in 69 different asylum countries. Iraqis are the

second largest refugee group, with 1.9 million having sought refuge mainly in

neighbouring countries.

Pakistan hosted the largest number of refugees in relation to its economic capacity.

The country hosted 733 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita. It was followed by

the Democratic Republic of the Congo (496 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per

capita) and the United Republic of Tanzania (262). The first developed country is

Germany at 26th place with 16 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita.

Source and more: UNHCR


Bloggers Unite is an attempt to harness the power of the blogosphere to make the world a better place. By asking bloggers to write about a particular subject on 1 day of the month, a single voice can be joined with thousands to help make a difference. A year ago I participated to Refugee event, this year I organized it again and one may find few other bloggers too writing today about different aspects of problem.

Afghanistan – to be or not?

November 2, 2009

“democracies make elections, elections don’t make democracies”

After Afghanistan’s fraudulent elections President Obama’s future politics in failing state is still foggy. Conflicting views of Obama’s staff, escalation of War to Pakistan, lack of clear vision and strategy are not making choice easy. The rest of the world is waiting U.S. leadership and considering same time their exit strategies. For EU latest now it is time for a rethink (European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) and crisis management practice.

After catastrophic first round there is a plan to have a bit more fair second round on 7th November. However Karzai’s opponent former FM Abdullah Abdullah has indicated that he does not believe election system and is planning to withdraw his candidature. After that people can make the democratic choice between one candidate only. This mess with elections shows clearly that central government in Kabul can not be effective partner while seeking new strategy for Afghanistan. It also underscores how ridiculous it is to import desk drawer plans from Brussels or Washington to totally different environment. On the other hand on country side the Taliban are the residents of that place and historically they have proved how resistant they are towards the foreign invaders and their ideas.

Some historical background

In Afghanistan, prior to the Russian invasion, the PDPA or ( the Peoples Democratic Party of
Afghanistan) invited the USSR to assist in modernizing its economic infrastructure, mainly exploration and mining of minerals and natural gas. The USSR also sent contractors to build hospitals, roads and schools and to drill water wells. They also trained and equipped the Afghan army. The country was then renamed the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA), and the PDPA regime lasted, in some form or another, until April 1992.

Once in power, the PDPA moved to permit freedom of religion and carried out an ambitious land reform waiving farmers’ debts countrywide. They also made a number of statements on women’s rights and introduced women to political life. A prominent example was Anahita Ratebzad, who was a major Marxist leader and a member of the Revolutionary Council. Ratebzad wrote the famous May 28, 1978 New Kabul Times editorial which declared: “Privileges which women, by right, must have are equal education, job security, health services, and free time to rear a healthy generation for building the future of the country … Educating and enlightening women is now the subject of close government attention.”

As part of a Cold War, in 1979 the United States government began to covertly fund forces ranged against the pro-Soviet government, although warned that this might prompt a Soviet intervention. The secular nature of the government made it unpopular with conservative Afghans in the villages and the countryside who favoured traditionalist ” Islamic” restrictions on women’s rights and in daily life. Many groups, led by members of the traditional establishment were formed, some of them resorting to violence and sabotage to the country’s infrastructure and industry. under the umbrella of Mujahideen, or ” Holy Muslim Warriors”. The Mujahideen belonged to various different factions, but all shared, to varying degrees, a similarly conservative ‘Islamic’ ideology.

The Soviet Union intervened on December 24, 1979. Over 100,000 Soviet troops took part in the invasion backed by another one hundred thousand and by members of the Parcham faction. For over nine years the Soviet Army conducted military operations against the Afghan Mujahideen rebels. The American CIA, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia assisted in the financing of the resistance also because of the anti-communist stance. Among the foreign participants in the war was Osama bin Laden, whose MAK ( maktab al-Khidamat/Office of Order) organization trained a small number of Mujahideen and provided some arms and funds to fight the Soviets. Around 1988 MAK broke away from the Mujahideen to expand the anti-Soviet resistance effort into a world-wide Islamic fundamentalist movement.

The Soviets withdrew its troops in February of 1989, but continued aid to the government led by Mohammed Najibullah. Massive amounts of aid from the CIA and Saudi Arabia to the Mujahideen also continued. Fighting continued among the victorious Mujahideen factions, which gave rise to a state of warlordism. It was at this time that the Taliban developed as a politico-religious force, eventually seizing Kabul in 1996 and establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. By the end of 2000 the Taliban had captured 95% of the country.

During the Taliban’s seven-year rule, much of the population experienced restrictions on their freedom and violations of their human rights. Women were banned from jobs, girls forbidden to attend schools or universities. Communists were systematically eradicated and thieves were punished by amputating one of their hands or feet. Opium production was nearly wiped out by the Taliban by 2001.

Now war in Afghanistan has slogged on for nearly nine years, making it longer than America’s involvement in World Wars I and II combined. U.S. has already spent $228 billion, almost 1000 Americans have been killed (nearly 200 so far this year), and Obama’s summer surge has muscled up America’s Afghan presence to 68,000 troops (plus another 42,000 from NATO. After last elections there is some base to claim that Obama is strengthening a central government that is “infamously incompetent, openly corrupt, criminally abusive, and thoroughly despised”.

Interactive tracking the U.S. War in Afghanistan here!

COIN: McChrystal’s plan

“Our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population. In the struggle to gain the support of the people, every action we take must enable this effort.” (Gen. McChrystal)

The integrated counterinsurgency, or COIN, strategy that McChrystal wants to pursue has many components: protecting Afghan civilians, rapidly expanding the Afghan army and police, reforming government, providing economic development assistance, weaning Taliban fighters and leaders away from Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, reconciling them into the new government, and targeting those who refuse. This makes it a demanding strategy that McChrystal reportedly believes will require providing at least an additional 10,000 to 40,000 U.S. troops and more than doubling existing Afghan forces to a total of 400,000 indigenous soldiers and police.

McChrystal says that, “Our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population. In the struggle to gain the support of the people, every action we take must enable this effort.”

McChrystal’s strategy can be seen as an applied version of Gen. Petraeus’ strategy in Iraq. However when in Iraq could be found an inner conflict between Shia and Sunni factions, between Kurds and other ethnic groups in Afghanistan there is no popular revolt against the Taliban, only a culture in which dominant local warlords flit from one allegiance to another. It defeated the British in 1842 and the Soviets in 1989.

Now the coalition has enough troops to carry out a “clear, hold and build” strategy – but only in a few districts. Overall force levels remain far below what they were in Iraq during the surge – when 174,000 foreign troops worked with 430,000 Iraqi security personnel. Afghanistan, which is bigger than Iraq, has just 102,000 coalition troops and 175,000 local security forces. More from article by Max Boot “There’s No Substitute for Troops on the Ground” October 22, 2009/New york Times.

Integrated COIN is itself no guarantee of success. Social scientists have estimated its success rate at somewhere between 25 and 70 percent at best.

Other alternatives

Today, the war in Afghanistan is at a historic juncture. At this crucial stage President Obama is set to take a risky decision. He has to decide between sending more troops in line with General McChrystal’s demand or to reduce forces in accordance with an exit strategy. There is alternative strategies and quite comprehensive analysis can be found e.g. from article “Is There a Middle Way” by Stephen Biddle in The New Republic on October 20th, 2009 which has been my main source with options below.

1) Use Drones

Another popular middle way is to rely on drone attacks, of the kind now ongoing in northwest Pakistan, to suppress Al Qaeda without a major ground commitment in Afghanistan. By killing key leaders and limiting the others’ freedom of action, it is argued, the drone strikes make large-scale terrorism much harder. Drone-based counterterrorism cannot destroy Al Qaeda outright, but it might be able to constrain it far more cheaply than a major counterinsurgency campaign could.

The biggest challenge to relying on drones is the need for intelligence. Drones are not wonder weapons; in particular, they require information on targets’ whereabouts that is normally provided by other assets–and especially by host government cooperation on the ground. It was Pakistani government penetration of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, for example, that reportedly enabled a U.S. Predator drone to kill terrorist leader Baitullah Meshud in August 2009. In general, such spies, informants, and other tipsters are key intelligence sources for drone attacks on secretive terrorist groups. This “human intelligence,” however, is very hard to get if the government on the ground decides to deny it to the United States.

According to media reports, significant elements within the civilian leadership of the government, led by Vice President Joe Biden, have opposed McChrystal’s plan for an intensified counterinsurgency campaign aimed at breaking the resistance of the Afghan people to US occupation. Instead, Biden and others have proposed an alternative strategy, which reportedly relies on air strikes, accelerated training of Afghan puppet forces and the use of US special forces troops to strike against insurgents across the border in Pakistan.

2) Reconcile with the Taliban

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants to have good and positive relations with all neighbors based on mutual respect and open a new chapter of good neighborliness of mutual cooperation and economic development. We consider the whole region as a common home against colonialism and want to play our role in peace and stability of the region. “

The quote above is from open letter of Taliban leader Mullah Omar to Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit on 19th September 2009. The letter indicated a shift in Taliban’s general policy and approach towards neighboring countries, the US and Europe.In the same tone, he assured China, India and Russia that the Taliban is going to play positive role in establishing peace and stability in the region. According to some observers who closely monitor the Taliban’s activities, these are new efforts to set out their priorities by focusing on Afghani interests rather than holding to a wide global network.

Recently the Taliban have become more watchful of the foreign Jihadists in Afghanistan. They require foreign militants to work the under supervision of the Taliban provincial commanders. Foreign militant are now not allowed, like before, to carry out their activities. independently.

Another common proposal is to negotiate a power-sharing deal with some or all of the Taliban as a means of ending the war without the escalation embodied in the McChrystal recommendations. America’s real interests are quite limited, it is often argued, so why not pursue a settlement to bring the Taliban into a coalition government on the proviso that they keep Al Qaeda out and deny the use of Afghan territory for destabilizing Pakistan?Karzai has reportedly been reaching out to the Quetta Shura and Hekmatyar factions of the Taliban via Saudi intermediaries for some time now; the talks have never made real progress because the Taliban insist on a total withdrawal of foreign forces as a precondition for negotiation.

3) Buy Off Warlords

It is sometimes argued that the West should stabilize Afghanistan and control Al Qaeda by paying warlords, tribal leaders, or other local power brokers to police their own turf, rather than relying on the national government in Kabul to control the entire country. Afghanistan has never had a strong central government, and order in the provinces has often been maintained by local authorities, legal and otherwise. The British, it is said, found direct control impossible but managed to wield influence by paying tribal or factional leaders. If the United States is willing to settle for government-by-warlord, then it could avoid the expense and risk of an orthodox counterinsurgency campaign while still denying militants access to Afghan havens.The traditional tribal leadership is one thing, but many of Afghanistan’s former warlords and current narcotics kingpins are hated figures whose predatory rule is disliked even more than that of the Taliban.

About a month ago there was stories that some Nato troops bribed local Taliban in exchange for safer environment. Now same idea is considered also by U.S. Americans believe that local Taliban fighters are motivated largely by the need for a job or loyalty to the local leader who pays them and not by ideology or religious zeal, so there could be change to attract these fighters to the government’s side.

The idea of bribing people, local guys, is one of the most cost-effective ways to get people to lay down their arms. It’s based to believe that most Taliban are not politically motivated but are operating for pay or due frustration. However while the plan has a reasonable chance for some success it may not be a long-term solution, it’s more a temporary allegiance.

4) Send Aid, Not Troops

Another proposal would shift the international contribution from combat to development assistance. Prosperity and an economic stake in the government, it is argued, can wean the population from the Taliban more effectively than force, which inevitably causes collateral damage and kills innocent civilians.

Aid is inherently political and is clearly understood to be so by the Taliban, who systematically target Western aid projects for attack. Without large security forces to defend them, aid projects cannot survive. In fact, development projects in Afghanistan are often destroyed even when they are defended, if those defenses are inadequate. No sensible Taliban would allow aid projects to undermine their control over the population when insurgents have the means at their disposal to destroy them or to intimidate their staff. Aid without security in Afghanistan would be fruitless.

EU’s role

EU Police Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL Afghanistan), launched June 2007 has a mandate to support the Afghan government in establishing a police force that respects human rights. Intended to employ 400 police officers, the mission has struggled to attract 280 and has seen its leadership change three times in two years. The mission’s mandate is due to expire in June 2010, though is likely to be extended.

European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) report “Can the EU rebuild failing states?” is a critical analysis about EU’s ESDP practice and I have used it as my main source related to EU’s role in Afghanistan.

The next generation of ESDP missions are likely to look more like Gaza, Afghanistan and Somalia: fluid, violent and with few clear-cut good and bad guys. To ensure that speed, security and self-sufficiency are at the heart of future interventions, the EU must scrap the idea that civilian missions are best designed by diplomats and European Council officials in Brussels. Responsibility must shift to civilians on the ground, whom the EU should deploy early to develop scalable assistance partnerships with unstable countries.

The European Union prides itself on being able to deal with fragile and failing states outside its borders, from Kosovo to Kabul, through what it believes to be its distinctive combination of “hard” power – coercion by military or other means – and “soft” power – persuasion through trade, diplomacy, aid and the spread of values. The European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), launched in 1999, exemplifies the EU’s commitment to the so-called “comprehensive approach” – a strategy that emphasises the importance of combining civilian and military tools when dealing with external security challenges. The new mission concept can only be effective if complemented by developments in Brussels. First, assuming the Lisbon treaty is passed, the new high representative for foreign policy should appoint a senior deputy to oversee the EU’s policy towards fragile and failing states. Second, the new External Action Service (EAS) should be structured to support integration in the field. Each mission should have “best practice” officers, reporting directly to the EUSR, who would draft reports on how to avoid past mistakes. Additionally, a “lesson-learning” unit should be set up in the Council Secretariat to synthesise reports from the field. Finally, each intervention must work to a set of benchmarks, progress of which should be tracked regularly.

While the total Afghan population is 28,150,000. Some 3.3 million Afghans are now involved in producing opium. A low estimate of the amount that the Taliban earn from the opium economy is $10 million, but considering the tradition of imposing tithes on cultivation and activities further up the value chain, the total is likely to be at least $20 million. As part of EU’s soft power one priority is developing agriculture in Afghanistan. One concrete project could be investigate a licensing scheme to start the production of medicines such as morphine and codeine from poppy crops to help it escape the economic dependence on opium. As much as one-third of Afghanistan’s GPD comes from growing poppy and illicit drugs including opium, morphine and heroin as well as hashish production. Proposed development project however can be difficult to implement politically as Ahmed Wali Karzai – The brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai – is a suspected player in Afghanistan’s opium trade and has been paid by the CIA over the past eight years for services.


The history of Afghanistan shows that they’ve practised pure Greek democracy at the village level for two millennia – to export today’s western democracy idea to Afghanistan without understanding this background may work in cabinets but not on the field. It’s arrogance to think that West easily could come in and install Jeffersonian representative democracy on Afghanistan.

Maybe the best democratic idea could be use an emergency loya jirga (a temporary council traditionally made up of representatives from Afghan tribes and opposing factions used decide matters of national significance). Loya jirga with 1,500 to 2,000 delegates representing all of the major players and parts of the countries could resolve today’s problems like they have traditionally resolved them in the past.

Real U.S. Motives?

It appears that the U.S. military may be a wholly owned subsidiary of the international (i.e. American and British)oil companies). U.S.military’s involvement in Afghanistan is directly related to the large reserves of natural gas in Turkmenistan. It seems that the U.S. interest in increasing troop levels in Afghanistan jumped a notch along with the recently publicized discovery of the very large large natural gas reserves in the Yoloten-Osman gas field in southern Turkmenistan. The TAPI gas pipeline can be one answer why U.S. invade Afghanistan. The wider picture is that U.S. tries to implement its Silk Road Strategy (SRS) by securing control over extensive oil and gas reserves, as well as “protecting” pipeline routes and trade on Eurasian corridor. This militarization is largely directed against China, Russia and Iran. More about SRS in my article “Is GUUAM dead?


While Afghanistan could be an attractive terrorist base, it is not at all crucial to al Qaeda, which now has many ‘homes,’ including fiery spinoffs in Indonesia, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, as well as in enclaves in France and England. The anti-Taliban operations launched in the valley of Swat in May 2009 forced some parts of foreign hirelings move to Central Asian states bordering with Afghanistan. This May a 100-men detachment led by the former field commander of the United Tajik Opposition Mullo Abdullo (Rakhimov) showed up in eastern Tajikistan. In late May an Uzbek check-point in Khanabad on the Kyrgyz border was attacked at night, and a few blasts later hit Andizhan. In July two operations were carried out in Southern Kyrgyzstan. All these incidents are linked with the return of some militants from the Afghan-Pakistan areas to Central Asia.

By autumn the situation in Uzbekistan worsened. The republic saw an outbreak of violent attacks aimed at high-ranking religious figures followed by a series of armed clashes and detentions of suspected criminals. The exact number of militants from Central Asia who have been staying in the Tribe Zone (on the Afghan-Pakistan border) is yet unknown. In mid September western media reported some 5.000 Uzbek militants to be hiding in North and South Waziristan. The real thread is growing terror activity in Russia’s southern borders (in Central Asia) and in Russia’s North Caucasus.

Opium etc production and politics have interactive connection especially in Afghanistan. Earlier I have studied how US foreign policy tactics helped to create logistics between markets via Balkan route and producers of heroin. This creature has been further developed by itself more strong by financial connection between Wahhabi organizations e.g. in Kosovo and international terrorism and Wahhabis as potential pool for operations. Same time there is historical and social link between organized crime groups and Kosovo’s political leaders. All this has also its international dimensions. I have described the outcome as Fourfold or Quadruple Helix Model where government, underworld, Wahhabbi schools and international terrorism have win-win symbiosis. More in my article “Quadruple Helix – Capturing Kosovo”.

Al-Qaeda does not require Afghan real estate to constitute a regional or global threat. Terrorists gravitate to areas of least resistance; if they cannot use Afghanistan, they will use countries such as Yemen or Somalia, as in fact they already are. The one issue that should be at the core of the United States’ Afghan strategy is Pakistan. It is there, not Afghanistan, where the United States has vital national interests. These stem from Pakistan’s dozens of nuclear weapons, the presence on its soil of the world’s most dangerous terrorists and the potential for a clash with India that could escalate to a nuclear confrontation.

My view

Speaking about “War on Terror” I think it is time to make a difference between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Taliban are mainly local Afghans who do not want to be occupied by any invading army, local Afghan nationalists resisting occupation. They may be ISI Pakistani agents fighting a proxy war against the US, drug smugglers and opium growers protecting their drug territories, foreign jihadists and the angry relatives of Afghans killed by coalition forces getting revenge.

One does not need to like about Taliban nor accept their ideology, but one should agree that they more or less represent their country. So if they concentrate – as indicated in last letter of Mullah Omar to SCO – Afghanistan’s inner policy without affection towards terror export to foreign countries why not give them change.

From my point of view the future strategy towards Afghanistan – if the aim is to get some sustainability – should be based on two principles:

  • Bottom-up principle, where the actions, development plans and administration are made starting from local, village level; not from high flown programmes made in Brussels or Washington.
  • Integrated approach where security, economy, local participation/commitment and administration are not separate sectors.

My conclusion is that the core question is not in or out. I would see the word with as best practice for future relations between U.S./EU and Afghanistan. The local stakeholder may or may not accept cooperation with foreigners but it is their choice as it is choice for U.S./EU to participate and invest to Afghanistan’s development plans or not.

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