‘Closing a chapter, continuing on the common journey’ – closing event of the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan

Brussels, December 2016. After nearly a decade of successfully supporting civilian policing in Afghanistan, the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL) will close down on 31 December 2016.

A closing event was organised by the European External Action Service (EEAS) on 14 December in Brussels, bringing together experts from the Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs, EU Member States, EU institutions and NATO for a retrospective look at EUPOL’s achievements. Several key speakers testified to the many positive developments attributed to EUPOL. They also looked ahead to future EU engagement in Afghanistan.

Opening the event, Bert Versmessen, the Deputy Civilian Operations Commander/Chief of Staff of the EEAS' Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability highlighted the concrete progress attained by EUPOL and the Afghan Ministry of Interior (MoI) in the professionalisation of the Afghan National Police (ANP). Significant steps were made in areas such as the introduction of the community policing concept to Afghanistan and the harmonisation of Afghan laws with relevant human rights standards.

The Deputy Secretary General for the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) Mr Pedro Serrano, described how, back in 2007, EUPOL was born out of a wish for the EU to provide solid support to the Afghan authorities. “We have come a long way since then. EUPOL has delivered on its mandate in increasing the capacity of the Afghan Ministry of Interior,” he said.

The Afghan Minister of Interior General Taj Mohammad Jahed shed light on the current security challenges in Afghanistan, mainly caused by insurgent networks. The ANP is, by necessity, engaged in counterinsurgency activities while at the same time aiming to protect the people of Afghanistan through its core police service functions. General Jahed emphasised that the progress of the last nine years had to be viewed in the context of this challenging background. He underlined the importance of ensuring good relations between citizens and the police through community policing. “Cooperation between the police and the people is absolutely vital. People need to feel that the police provides them with security. We are working to improve that relationship.”

He furthermore cited training and education as key to the development of a police service, applauding EUPOL’s work as having been particularly successful in this area owing to the establishment of the Afghan Police Staff College and the Crime Management College. Originally set up with the support of EUPOL, both institutions are now fully under Afghan leadership. The Police Staff College has notably developed from training on a tactical level to providing management training on a strategical level.

The Civilian Operations Commander Kenneth Deane pointed out that EUPOL Afghanistan was part of a broad international effort to build a wide array of security services that the Afghan government now has at its disposal: “We have, together with other international partners, laid the foundation for security forces that work to make Afghanistan a better place for Afghans. In the challenging security environment of Afghanistan, civilian policing is not an alternative to robust policing, but a complement to it.”

As Civilian Operations Commander in charge of all the EU’s civilian crisis management missions, Mr Deane noted that the lessons identified from EUPOL Afghanistan were useful to other civilian CSDP missions in their respective work to better people’s lives. He reiterated that the end of the EUPOL mission is merely the end of a chapter. The common journey of the EU and Afghanistan will continue.

For her part, the EUPOL Head of Mission Ms. Pia Stjernvall paid tribute to EUPOL Afghanistan’s fallen colleagues Mette, Michael and Simon who had paid the ultimate price. In evaluating EUPOL’s work, she highlighted progress with regard to female police, improving the training capacity of the ANP, anti-crime initiatives including strengthening international collaboration with actors such as Interpol as well as police-prosecutor cooperation.

Paola Pampaloni, Head of Division for the Department for Asia-Pacific at the European External Action Service, touched on key areas of EU’s continued support for civilian policing in Afghanistan – advising on a strategic level in core functions such as community policing and fighting against corruption. She stressed the need to fight the high levels of corruption in Afghanistan and welcomed the current efforts of the Afghan government in this area.

Clear progress notwithstanding, major challenges remain in the pursuit of peace and stability in Afghanistan. The EU remains committed to contributing to the further development of sustainable and effective civilian policing under Afghan ownership, in line with the policy advice and institution-building work of the EU.

“This closing event takes place two months after the Brussels donor conference. The EU will remain engaged in working with the Afghan government on the rule of law and policing, with 44 million euros being donated annually through the UNDP-administered Law and Order Trust Fund Afghanistan,” revealed the European Commission Deputy Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development Marjeta Jager.

A state-building contract that provides direct budget support to Afghanistan was signed at the October donor conference, providing 200 million euros over a period of two years from 2017 onwards. With Afghanistan currently trying to cope with an increasing number of returnees, 78 million euros will be channelled to supporting returning Afghans and will be administered through a special fund.

Afghanistan is and will continue to remain the largest individual recipient of development assistance from the European Union.