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Afghan mission needs refocusing, UN official warns

Taliban resurgence blamed on failure to rebuild services

Richard Foot, Calgary Herald, 23 Mar 07


Canada and its allies in Afghanistan have "completely

underestimated" the importance of building strong and effective

local government institutions, and will not defeat the Taliban until

they do so, said Tom Koenigs, the United Nations' most senior

official in Afghanistan.


"We have made mistakes, and we shouldn't repeat them," *Koenigs* said

this week in Washington. "We have completely underestimated the

challenge of governance in the southern provinces. The resurgence of

the Taliban there was only possible because there was a power



Koenigs, a longtime UN official and former deputy mayor of

Frankfurt, Germany, was speaking Wednesday during a symposium on

Afghanistan at the United States Institute of Peace, an independent

think-tank founded by the U.S. Congress.


He has completed his first year in Afghanistan, where after more

than 14 months of hard military action by Canada, the United States,

Britain and other allies, he said, "the Taliban have not been



More importantly, he adds: "The victory over Afghans' hearts and

minds, which at the moment is everybody's language, hasn't been



Koenigs said at least "50 per cent" of the problems in Afghanistan

are a result of inadequate, corrupt or nonexistent government

services, particularly in the rural parts of southern provinces such

as Kandahar, where the Taliban draws much of its power.


When the central government in Kabul and its coalition allies fail

to provide local courts, or a system of civilian justice, for

example, "the Taliban comes along and said, 'We will provide

justice. We will adjudicate disputes between farmers,' " *Koenigs*



Where some form of government order does exist, it's often so

corrupt that the Taliban appear a better option to many Afghans.


*Koenigs* said one of the great failures of the NATO coalition in

southern Afghanistan has been to focus on a military rather than a

"governance" solution to the insurgency.


Even more recent attempts to defeat the insurgency by winning over

civilian Afghans -- by building roads, holding health clinics in

local villages and focusing on economic aid -- won't solve the

problem, he said.


"A focus on governance is even more necessary than on other kinds

of development. Hearts and minds will not be won in Afghanistan by

development aid, but by governance.


"The brand-mark of the Taliban is not economic development and

Afghan farmers don't ask for development. They ask for security, for

decent government services, they ask to be taken seriously by

district governors. They ask for law and order and justice. We have

to be better at these things than the Taliban.


"It's wrong to say that if we build a road and invest in schools,

the people will be on our side. . . . If we don't get the governance

right in the south, we will not defeat the insurgency."


Thirty-seven Canadian soldiers have died, and dozens more have been

injured, in Afghanistan since Canada took responsibility for

security and development in Kandahar province in 2006.


*Koenigs* said no matter how hard NATO forces work to help Afghan

civilians, they will always be seen as an occupation force.


The Taliban feeds off that mindset to foster among the population a

sense of legitimacy for the insurgency.


Koenigs said NATO must refocus its military campaign from one of

fighting battles and manning distant garrisons to one of training

and supporting Afghan government forces to do the fighting and

patrolling instead.

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