Afghanistan: the Dutch View

The role of the Netherlands in the upcoming Afghanistan Conference in The Hague is, to a certain extent, limited in nature. It is the host nation, facilitator and co-chair of this United Nations meeting, but doesn’t set the agenda.  Still, it is interesting to take a closer look at the Dutch position towards the situation in Afghanistan, if only to explain why the United States (which originally proposed to hold this meeting) asked The Netherlands to host the conference.

First of all, the Dutch are a main troop contributor to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The Netherlands is ISAF’s lead nation in the province of Uruzgan, with Australia (itself not a NATO member) contributing a sizable force under Dutch command. Other nations, such as France, Slovakia and Singapore contribute smaller units to ISAF’s ‘Task Force Uruzgan’.

Big League
In addition, when NATO expanded its area of operations to Southern Afghanistan in 2006, the Netherlands was asked (and accepted) to take on the rotating command over ISAF’s activities in the six provinces concerned together with Canada and the United Kingdom. That decision put the Dutch in NATO’s ‘Big League’ and, literally, in the front line. Currently, Dutch Major-general Mart de Kruif commands ‘Regional Command (South)’, as the region is known in NATO parlance.

In its most recent update to Parliament, the Dutch government says that 2009 will be “very important” for Afghanistan. “A credible and good proceeding of  the Presidential elections on August 20th is essential for the legitimacy of the Afghan government”, the Dutch government stated in a letter to Parliament of March 13th.  “Even more than in recent years, the Afghan government will have to demonstrate that it is able to deliver peace and tangible improvements in (daily) life of the population”.

Renewed dynamics
The letter notes the new approach with regards to Afghanistan announced by the Obama administration, which it says will bring “renewed dynamics between the international community and the Afghan government”; more attention to the role of neighbouring countries; an increased military contribution to ISAF, and “a better balance” between defense, diplomacy and development.

Worrisome
The Dutch government in its letter notes a “disappointing” deterioration  of the security situation in Southern Afghanistan – with the notable exception of Uruzgan province, although the government hastens to add that the current relative quietness in Uruzgan is not a guarantee for the near future.  Likewise, the government says that the situation in and around the capital Kabul is “worrisome”.  “Security and stability, the goals of  ISAF, have not come closer”, the letter states.

On the Afghanistan Conference in The Hague, the Dutch government says it offers an opportunity to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan in terms of politics, security and development in an integrated manner, and with an eye on the “regional context”, in other words on the role that countries like India, Pakistan and Iran play. “It is important to show to the population of Afghanistan the long-term and solid involvement and support of the international community”.

(Source: Kamerbrief inzake voortgang missie in Afghanistan, 13 March 2009)

Official website of the Conference

Radio Netherlands coverage of the Conference

Over Hans de Vreij

Dutch journalist. Former correspondent in Brussels, Geneva, Prague, East Berlin.
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