Europeans maintained their troop levels in Afghanistan but relations with the Afghan government were rocky and the EU had little influence over Pakistan.
EU member states played a relatively peripheral role in the Afghan conflict in 2011. They continued to maintain over 30,000 troops in the country under NATO command and none of the largest contributors (France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the UK) significantly varied the scale of their presence. However, these European forces played a secondary role to the 90,000 US troops in Afghanistan. The EU’s police training presence in Afghanistan (EUPOL Afghanistan) also continued to operate and has had its mandate extended in principle until 2014. However, NATO took an increasingly active role in police matters, in part because the EU mission’s track record is weak and it has struggled to recruit sufficient international personnel to fulfil its mandate. These staffing problems persisted through 2011.
EU member states remained diplomatically active in attempting to chart a stable future for Afghanistan. Their efforts were complicated by increasingly strained relations with President Hamid Karzai, who warned that NATO risks becoming an “occupying force”. There was a certain degree of rapprochement in December, when European leaders attending the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan signed up to commitments to assist the country in the decade after NATO forces withdraw in 2014.
However, the Bonn summit was overshadowed by Pakistan’s refusal to attend in retaliation for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a US raid on the Afghan border. This was just one of a series of setbacks for American-Pakistani relations, the biggest of which was the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, European governments, which were not informed of the bin Laden raid in advance, have little influence over Pakistan and were not able to improve relations between Islamabad and Washington. As NATO prepares to draw down in Afghanistan, India is increasingly emerging as an important strategic partner for Kabul – which is a further worry for Pakistan. In this fluid context, Europe’s influence is declining even further.