Norway’s efforts to help create a stable and democratic state in Afghanistan have been all but wasted, according to a report on Norway’s involvment in the war-torn country. While some veterans of the Afghan campaign object to the brutal assessment, the report makes it clear that Norway’s goals for the country have not been met.
“After many years of international efforts, the situation in Afghanistan is depressing,” begins the summary of the report that was handed over to Foreign Minister Børge Brende and Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide on Tuesday. Neither Brende nor Søreide, of the Conservatives, referred to the harsh contents of the report in their acceptance remarks, opting instead to simply say they hoped to learn from it.
The report noted how militant Islamist groups still have a foothold in parts of Afghanistan, while the Taliban is stronger than it has ever been since 2001. Acts of war “undermine any foundation for economic and social development, threaten whatever success has been achieved and weaken the possibilities to build a stable, functioning state on a democratic basis,” the report continued. It noted that political and social change initiated from the outside have found support in reformist circles in Afghanistan, but have met opposition from conservative, religious and nationalist forces along with various local bases of power.
Norway ‘has not made a difference’
“In the overall picture,” the report bluntly stated, “Norway has not made any considerable difference” in Afghanistan. There was a limit to what Norway could do, the report conceded, but the Norwegians also were able to make some of their own choices, the report noted, and opted for some “peculiar” ones, without trying to influence how their bigger allies approached the problems.
According to newspaper Fedrelandsvennen, the Norwegian government has spent around NOK 20 billion on its Afghan effort between 2001, when it answered the US’ and NATO’s calls for help, and 2014, with NOK 11.5 billion used for military purposes and NOK 8.4 billion on civilian programs. The new report, put together by a government-appointed commission led by former top Labour politician and diplomat Bjørn Tore Godal, points out that Norway had three goals when it first got involved in the Afghanistan crisis.
The first was to show support for the US and NATO in the fight against international terrorism. The Godal Commission believes that’s the only area where Norway succeeded, proving itself to be a good ally.
Norway’s second goal of actually fighting international terrorism itself, however, and preventing Afghanistan from becoming a breeding ground for terror has only partially succeeded.
Norway’s third goal, to help build a stable and democratic Afghan state through long-term foreign aid and diplomacy, has not been met. Afghanistan today, according to the Godal Commission, is “still among the most foreign-aid-dependent countries in the world.” Its reduced economic growth further weakend the state’s ability to generate income, and the international aid has created new lines of conflict, a power elite and provided a basis for corruption.
International and Norwegian authorities, including those during the eight years of the Labour government led by current NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg, also have failed to pay enough attention to acquiring local knowledge, nurturing local relations or studying culture and conflicts. Norwegian authorities’ participation in questions regarding the rule of law was “weak,” there was little gained from Norway’s presence in Faryab province and today, Norway’s efforts have generated high costs with little return. Despite the international community’s roughly NOK 357 billion investment in Afghanistan, its society remains devastated by 23 years of war, with more than 90,000 killed just between 2001 and 2014.
Norwegian veterans who have served in Afghanistan don’t agree that the Norwegian contribution has been wasted. Bjørn Iversen from Telemark, for example, said he was proud of what he and his colleagues did “down there,” and thinks the work was worthwhile. “When children get clean water and a possibility to go to school, I don’t think that’s a failure,” Iversen told Norwegian Broadcastint (NRK) on Monday. “Or if they maybe feel safe, if even for just a short period.”
Kjetil Kåsa, who spent three months in Afghanistan in 2006, also defended the Norwegian contribution. “We were supposed to help build security and we did that. I think it was a positive experience to work in Afghanistan.”
Defense Minister Søreide, faced with the critical report, was quick to thank “the Norwegian soldiers who have served and are serving in Afghanistan. They have made an important contribution and help follow up the political goals that were set. Our military engagement is still substantial, through the Resolute Support Mission concentrated in Kabul.”
Both she and Brende insisted that “a lot has been achieved” in Afghanistan while ‘it’s also important to learn” from experience in the civilian missions, also “in other vulnerable states.” They claimed Norway’s financial and military aid would continued. “Lasting stability and development in Afghanistan will take time,” Brende said, “but it is important for all of us.”
They did thank the Godal Commission, made up of various experts on Afghanistan, defense issues and foreign policy. “The commision has done a comprehensive job on its report, and it’s important to bring its lessons further,” Søreide said.