Afghan, Pakistani Military Leaders Meet in Germany, Discuss Terrorism
By Joe Ferrare
Special to American Forces Press Service
GARMISCH, Germany, Apr. 3, 2006 Things may have gotten a little tougher for Osama bin Laden and the remnants of the Taliban thanks to a seminar that brought together 16 Afghan and Pakistani officers who work along the border between the two nations.
The seminar was the brainchild of U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, commander of the Combined Forces Command Afghanistan. Eikenberry wanted to give officers from the two nations a chance to come together in a neutral location to discuss issues of mutual concern and learn more about terrorism. The two-week seminar ended March 31.
Afghan, Pakistani and coalition officials already meet regularly in the Tripartite Commission to discuss common security issues. This seminar was conceived as the first in a series designed to complement the commission's success by bringing together officers directly involved in the day-to-day fight against terrorism and other security issues, CFCA officials said. Plans are to hold two such seminars a year for five years.
The George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies here was chosen to host the seminar because of its location, facilities and renowned faculty. It teamed with its sister center that is focused on that part of the world, the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. The centers are two of the five Department of Defense regional centers.
Together, the two centers delivered an intense two-week program designed to give the eight Afghan and eight Pakistani officers a platform for discussions and learning, participants said.
"(Meeting at) the George C. Marshall Center has not only given us the opportunity to sit together, meet together, listen to each other and discuss with each other, but (also to) listen to the different professors who gave us heart-provoking lectures and then walled us in a discussion, which was very, very focused and directed to achieve the main aim of developing common and mutual understanding between both the armies," Pakistani Army Lt. Col. Kahlil Dar said. "Seen in that perspective, I think the aim has been amply achieved."
In charge of achieving that aim was Marshall Center's Professor Nick Pratt, who also runs the center's five-week program on terrorism and security studies. Pratt said the challenges the two armies face along their mutual border go back to the British colonial era and beyond.
"What makes it really tricky is that you have (the same tribe) on both sides of the border. (They) are on the Pakistan side of the border and the Afghan side of the border, and they don't give a hoot about this imaginary line," Pratt said. "They marry back and forth, they travel back and forth. The families are literally on both sides of the border."
This area is also home to the ethnic group that produced the leaders of the Taliban, which allowed Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network to operate in the region before the U.S. response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks forced them from power. Some foreign terrorists have been in the region so long they have married into the families there, Pratt said. Those family ties combine with a code of chivalry that includes giving sanctuary to those being chased and other traditions that make Western-style border control difficult, Pratt explained.
"(The participants) who are here for this course are the ones who have to root around and find these networks and deal with these people. And it's hard, real hard," he said.
Organizers brought in a team of professors from both centers, as well as guest speakers, who delivered lectures to complement the discussions between the officers. "It started off with a kind of an overview of the region," Pratt said. "Then we necked down to the Hindu Kush area, ... which is that part of the world. And then we spoke about how you actually go about controlling borders. We got into some real granularity there: What are some of the programs that you have to have for border control? What are some of the devices you need?
"Then we brought in the whole issue of terrorism because it's a menace that affects both sides of the border," Pratt continued. "We brought them from a historical view of terrorism right up to what terrorism is today. And then, with the experts we have here, we ... discussed international law and how that covers terrorism, and that was very helpful to both sides. We talked about how terrorism is financed. We've got an economist here who's an expert in that. My deputy then talked about something that's near and dear to both of them, and that's how criminality assists terrorism."
The professors didn't only lecture during the seminar, Pratt said. They took the opportunity to get feedback from people who work these issues every day. "We introduced them to U.S. strategy and said, 'OK, here's our strategy. What do you think of it? You're watching it; you're living with it. What are we doing right, and what are we doing wrong?' And (we) let them critique U.S. strategy. That was interesting," Pratt said.
Seminar participants found the course content more than interesting, two Afghan officers said. "Both countries learned a lot from the presentations and lectures," Afghan army intelligence officer Col. Zamon Hussain Ihsan said. "This was really an education for us. It was opened in order to be able to fight against terrorism in a concerted and coordinated way from a basis of mutual confidence. Our final aim is to create confidence and trust among the people of both nations: Afghanistan and Pakistan."
"We direly need what we have been taught here because we have lost everything in the last 25 years of war," added Afghan Army Col. Salahudin Safi, who is a director in the Reconnaissance and Intelligence Office in Kabul. "What we learned here can be used when we analyze our intelligence and develop our strategies in the region. What we are going to do next is, when we go back, we are going to compare what we have learned to our actual circumstances, the practical situation there, and see how we can implement them because we are in the process of reconstructing our national army."
"The second thing we're going to do is we're going propose to our higher-ranking officials to continue to work with the Tripartite Commission ... and to expand on it," Ihsan added. "Also we'd like to propose to expand on the trading of intelligence information through the Tripartite Commission in all areas, in all aspects, until it covers even the tactical level. This is to enable us to conduct more precise military operations against terrorists based on the sharing of intelligence information."
Dar, who is the director of Pakistan's military operations directorate of the region near Afghanistan, came away with a second, less obvious lesson that concerned sharing and intelligence.
"Not only has it been very ideal in terms of the academic facilities that they have arranged for us, (but) the living accommodations and the opportunity to eat together, to sit together at the dining table also," Dar said. "I must also say they have given us an opportunity -- both of us -- to roam around in the city and observe how tolerance is embedded in the developed part of the world, how these things are done in the developed part of the world. That has also (become) a great stimulant for us, so that we should (return to) our countries with this in our minds so that our future conditions should be more tolerant and more cooperative."
That kind of cooperation not only will make controlling the border area easier for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Pratt said. But it is also key to having fewer coalition forces in the area.
"What you'll see in five years is a cadre of people who know each other," Pratt said. "The Marshall Center has been around for 13 years, and we're just starting to see the fruits of our efforts. People who've been to the Marshall Center working together at NATO, working together at the (European Union), attending conferences, that sort of thing, and they have these friendships. And that's taken a good 13 years.
"The more effective this program is, the fewer (coalition) boots on the ground you're going to have to have," Pratt said. "In a perfect world, there are no NATO guys there and there are no U.S. guys there, and you've got two countries that are working together like the cooperation you see between the U.S. and Canada on our mutual border."
(Joe Ferrare is assigned to the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.)