Opportunities for Cooperation Between Afghanistan & Netherlands
23 Mar 2015 - 11:13

From the 4th until the 17th of March 2015 Clingendael Academy hosted 8 senior policy advisers from the Government of Afghanistan for a training programme in strategic policy planning. One of the elements addressed during this programme was the role of civil society organisations in Afghanistan in policy analysis, implementation and monitoring.

On 13 March, a roundtable discussion was organised with the Afghan officials and representatives from Oxfam Novib, Cordaid and the Hague Institute of Global Justice, during which they discussed how the future cooperation between the Netherlands and Afghanistan could take shape.

Constructive Dialogue

The roundtable discussion provided first and foremost a platform for discussion. However, it also serves as an example where non-governmental parties entered into a constructive dialogue with the government, something which is a nascent tendency in the practice of strategic policy planning in Afghanistan.

Common ground was found in the following key issues:

  • Going Regional: For Afghanistan to invest in sustainable partnerships with its neighbouring countries  will benefit not only peace and stability in the region, but will also boost the Afghan economy.
  • Civil Society: Women empowerment should become a priority. Additionally, local and international NGO’s as well as Afghan institutions need to invest in capacity-building of the civilian government on all levels.
  • Security: Creating jobs for both skilled and unskilled citizens will contribute greatly to achieving and maintaining peace and security in the country. Women empowerment in the police and army is also crucial here.
  • Dutch Support: Aid should be focused on one area, and thus tap into previous experience in order to be more successful. For the Netherlands, the most suitable area to focus on would be agriculture.

Regional Context

A common thread in discussions about the future of Afghanistan is the regional context. The Afghan leadership has prioritised the improvement of relationships with neighbouring countries, which resulted in the signing of numerous partnership agreements. The test lies in the actual implementation of the agreed intentions. One of those is the TAPI pipeline and the further development of what US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton coined the New Silk Road.

This New Silk Road refers to a trade and transit network, with Afghanistan in the middle, connecting the Middle East, South Asia and Central Asia. During the discussion, a number of turnkey projects like TAPI, border crossing points, hydropower and irrigation infrastructure were highlighted. Even when everybody agrees on the great potential of such projects, the actual realisation and construction requires massive financing and multi-decade commitments. Support on this scale can only come from multilateral financial bodies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Civil Society Support for Afghan Development

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"5098","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"320","style":"margin: 2px; width: 300px; height: 200px; float: left;","width":"480"}}]]The Dutch NGOs working in Afghanistan, through their Afghan partner organisations, are involved in various activities ranging from de facto service delivery (e.g. Basic Packages of Health Services), to supporting district security and justice committees, and lobby and advocacy activities in Europe. It was discussed to what extent service-delivery projects should be linked with efforts to promote local peace-making.

The Afghan delegation primarily underlined the importance to create jobs – it is employment that keeps youth away from insurgent and criminal groups. These opportunities should also include a fair share of unskilled jobs in order to include as many individuals as possible. Furthermore, it was mentioned that Western NGOs, with the aid of Afghan partners, could also engage in building the capacity of civilian government services at the district, provincial and central levels. In particular when it comes to the advancement of women within the Civil Service, local civil society could play an important supportive role.

Dutch Contribution to International Aid

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"5099","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"338","style":"margin: 2px; width: 350px; height: 246px; float: right;","width":"480"}}]]It was mentioned that the withdrawal of international military forces is not necessarily considered a bad development. Indeed, the Afghan security forces are more capable than before, and donors should also consider the Army and Police as employment opportunities. In that sense, the ceiling of approximately 356,000 is hampering the socio-economic role security forces can play in post-conflict societies.

While international military assistance is decreasing (despite the Dutch military contribution to the NATO Resolute Support Mission), technical support in the form of capacity-building could be intensified with the Central-level Ministries. Such support could focus on policy implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. Finally, the Netherlands should focus its support on a specific sector, working towards Afghan self-sufficiency in the chosen sector. Agriculture could be such a focus area for the Netherlands, since it ties into extensive Dutch expertise and the fact that Afghanistan, in its basis, remains an agricultural country.

In the end, it is in the mutual interest of all parties involved that Afghanistan succeeds in its effort to achieve economic self-reliance. This ultimately requires a region that not only adheres to good neighbourly relations, but also takes an active role in building, improving and maintaining such relations.

Dutch Ministers Visit Afghanistan

At the time of the training, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Bert Koenders and Dutch Minister of Defence Ms Hennis-Plasschaert visited Afghanistan where they met with President Ghani, Chief Executive Dr Abdullah and the Minsters of Defence and Interior. The visit indicates the continued commitment of the Netherlands to the further transformation of Afghanistan towards greater self-reliance. During this visit the Ministers underlined the importance the Dutch government attaches to the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework and the objectives as outlined in the Afghan Government’s Agreement: Realizing Self-Reliance.

- 23 March 2015

For more information about this training course for senior policy planners from Afghanistan, please contact Ms. Evelien Borgman and/or Mr. Bart Hogeveen.