The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination (LISD) at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs convened a private workshop, “A Strategy for Afghanistan and Its Region,” May 7-10, 2009 in Triesenberg, Liechtenstein. The workshop’s aim was to discuss in-depth the strategy of the Obama Administration toward Afghanistan and its region and to formulate additional recommendations. Some twenty leading international experts from the region, Asia, Europe and the United States participated. The meeting was co-funded by LISD, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Stiftung für Selbstbestimmung und Internationale Beziehungen (SiBiL) in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. The workshop was co-chaired by Francesc Vendrell and Wolfgang Danspeckgruber.
There was general agreement among the participants that the Obama Administration’s new Afghanistan strategy resembles a strategic framework more than a specific strategy. This new framework for policy towards Afghanistan has been expanded to include a combined focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, what is sometime referred to as “Af-Pak;” a surge of international civilian advisers and military forces and a major increase of civilian personnel, planning for a more rapid transfer of responsibility for security to the Afghan government; and an increased engagement with international actors, including neighboring and other regional states. The new US administration is clearly intent on selling the urgent need for increased international focus on Afghanistan. However, some perceive the Obama Administration’s approach as a step in the development of an overall US exit strategy from Afghanistan.
Some workshop participants suggested that the new Obama framework is missing several aspects, including a concrete political strategy with specifics on how the civilian surge will occur and how democracy and institution building will be supported, and a plan that distinguishes Al-Qaeda from that of the Taliban insurgency. Moreover, there is unfortunately no change in the international community’s thinking of a political strategy of supporting individuals to a more effective policy of supporting institutions and programs. Overall, participants agreed that the international community, with the leadership of the United States, should have a clear and consistent strategy of supporting democratic institutions in Afghanistan and should convey that it intends to be in Afghanistan for the longer term. This clear international commitment is needed to fight off defeatist thinking and to avoid “fatigue” both among Afghans toward the international community, and among members of the international community toward continued high levels of involvement in Afghanistan. This international commitment is also needed to foster a consistent, coordinated and prioritized approach for international engagement that avoids wasteful duplication in these difficult economic times.