EUPOL Afghanistan: What can the EU learn?
EUPOL Afghanistan is amogst the most negatively rated police missions of the EU. While it has been successful in developing strategies for sustainable solutions to civil insecurity in Afghanistan, it has failed to have significant impact. The lack of a cohesive action plan, insufficient resources and inefficiency within the project have hindered its success. Now is the time for the EU to learn from its mistakes. This is crucial if it is to become a key player in international conflict management.
The EU launched EUPOL Afghanistan (European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan) in mid-June 2007 within the framework of its comprehensive approach towards Afghanistan. The mission not only aimed at contributing to the EU's overall political and strategic objectives in Afghanistan but also boost its image as a credible global actor in civilian crisis management. The emphasis has been to establish an effective civilian police service functioning in "an improved rule of law framework and respect for human rights". With the mission scheduled to close on 31st December 2016, it is pertinent to take a stock of its performance.
EUPOL Afghanistan is one of the most negatively rated police missions of the EU, despite it making some modest gains in the last couple of years. One of the gains is the introduction of civilian policing in the training of national police chiefs. The ‘train the trainer' approach has encouraged local Afghan ownership and promoted the sustainability of training activities. It has also successfully established the Police Staff College in Kabul that imparts training to police officers in leadership, management, gender and human rights awareness, Command and Control and Community Policing. As per EUPOL Afghanistan fact sheet, more than 6000 students have graduated from the academy, adding to EU's credibility in the niche area of training. However, the EU has not been entirely successful in fulfilling its mandate. To avoid meeting the same fate elsewhere, the Union can draw upon these crucial lessons from EUPOL Afghanistan:
• The lack of an empirical base and a clear reform strategy negatively impacted the operationalization of EUPOL. It seemed to provide an alternative to the US approach of quick- fix and short- term solutions; however, it ended up replicating the same model of engagement. As a result, it has not achieved the impact that would endow it as a credible actor in civilian crisis management, especially in challenging security contexts.
• Activities in the framework of the EU's CSDP have largely been demand-driven, primarily as a reaction to eruptions of violence. Such involvements, in the future, should be increasingly determined in a strategic context and also include preventive measures.
• EU's crisis management activities are heavily dependent on the resources of the EU member states. It is imperative to garner more resources on the ground from them. The missions have been relatively small scale with the notable exception of EULEX Kosovo. The member states also have to be more willing in contributing in concrete terms (finances and personnel). EUPOL Afghanistan supports the argument that lack of resources is a critical stumbling block for the reform efforts.
• EUPOL Afghanistan has clearly shown the visibility versus efficiency dilemma which young actors like the EU face. If Brussels concentrates more on visibility, the staff on the ground focuses on numbers and quantity (ie. training people who are not specifically relevant), resulting in a less efficient outcome. If it stresses on quality, it becomes more efficient but less visible as compared to the existing stronger players such as the US and the UN.
• Visibility is a double-edged sword for the EU. At one level, it does a facelift of the EU and marks its presence in different parts of the globe. But the increasing visibility also leads to an increase in expectations from the EU. The EU is in the infancy of undertaking crisis management. Hence, it is susceptible to severe criticisms, especially from the Euro-sceptics. This negative image belittles the achievements that the EU has accomplished since its inception. The EU has to address this dilemma. It is clear that effectiveness over visibility will be the best way forward.
But can one blame the EU alone? The answer is no. Its constituent parts are equally, if not more, responsible for the adverse outcomes concerning the missions. Individuals and departments within the EU often get involved in blame games instead of taking responsibility. Lessons are often mistakes, and it is hard to take the onus of it. Hence, even the best identified lessons cannot be adequately implemented. If the EU is serious about civilian crisis management, it has to focus on a constructive approach and allocate more officials to the Lessons Learnt (L2) Unit. In order for the entire exercise of lessons learnt to be successful, it is not sufficient for the EU just to learn, but it must implement the learnt lessons successfully. It has to convert ‘learning by doing' into ‘doing by learning' and not just doing by trying.
Dr. Siddharth Tripathi is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science and Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) Centre for Peace, Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi.
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