Introduction

EU Border Management Badakhshan Afghanistan was initiated in 2007 as part of EU Kabul’s regional cooperation programme and as a capacity building and training project. At that time, between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, there were three international border crossing points at bridges over the Amu Darya (Pyanj) River. Today there are six bridges and a seventh is planned for construction soon. Bridges were built by the USA (At Nizhny Pyanj – Shirkhan Bandar) and by AKDN-PATRIP at all other locations. In addition, from Afghanistan, there is one Border Crossing Point with Uzbekistan and one Border Crossing Point with Turkmenistan.

This report includes achievements made by EU-UNDP consecutively implemented projects. The Border Management Badakhshan Afghanistan Project (BOMBAF) ran from 2007 to 2010. The Border Management Northern Afghanistan Project (BOMNAF) started in 2011 and the current iteration is due to continue until end 2016.

Context

Security and stability

The BOMNAF Project is based in and managed from Dushanbe. The security and stability situation in Tajikistan allows the project to work without interruption. Field missions and Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) visits to border areas are made regularly through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which ensures continued quality control and mentoring by engineers and experts from the project. In Afghanistan the security situation is variable; always with a high possibility of hostile activities. Stability of the level of security can never be guaranteed. Changes to the security state are a fact of life in Afghanistan, and need always to be taken into consideration when planning any field or project site activities.

Influences on development

Support is being provided across the international border to trade facilitation, counter narcotics, local governance, anti-trafficking, and regional, social and human development through activities implemented by the ongoing BOMNAF project, as well as by UNDP Tajikistan’s Communities Programme.

Objectives – consistent with strategy

BOMNAF objectives coincide with EU and UNDP strategies and with post 2014 development priorities in Afghanistan. The specific objective is to Support Cross-border Security and Cooperation through improving the capacity of Integrated Border Management in northern Afghanistan.

Infrastructure

As well as providing training, equipment and facilities at international frontiers across Central Asia, UNDP’s experience of border management activities on the Afghanistan side of the border has also been gained through BOMNAF’s construction of new infrastructure at four international border crossing points (BCP) on the Tajik-Afghan frontier. These include fully equipped, joint working buildings for all agencies responsible for border management and are associated with transnational markets places, adjacent to the BCPs, each of which attract between 350 and 1,000 Afghans each week, facilitating international travel and promoting local trade.

Regional development

Interventions in the Central Asia and northern Afghanistan region are increasingly integrated to the concurrent development of more than one country. Developing cross-border cooperation between southern Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan, contributing to regional development, regional support, regional integration and enhanced human security as well as to support the enhancement and expansion of economic development in rural, borderlands areas requires regional capacity building, including cross-border and bilateral activities in integrated border management, which are key issues addressed by the BOMNAF project.

Heart of asia confidence building measures

Border management in Northern Afghanistan is focused on the Confidence Building Measures (CBM) stated in the Heart of Asia Process. Primarily the BOMNAF Project directly supports the ‘Counter Narcotics CBM’ and ‘Counter Terrorism CBM’. In addition, by working towards more open and secure borders, the project also indirectly supports the ‘Disaster Management CBM’ and the ‘Commercial Opportunities CBM’.

What worked

Training in Dushanbe

There are four main reasons why training delivery benefits from being located in Dushanbe rather than Afghanistan.

  • Facilities: The facilities available in Dushanbe are first rate, best exemplified by the OSCE’s Border Management Staff College whose conference room supports tri-lingual presentations and contemporaneous translation. For larger conferences the Ismaili Centre and International Hotels offer outstanding levels of service. Furthermore, hotel accommodation for students of all ranks is clean, comfortable and affordable, and travel to and from training sites is dependable.
  • Instructor/Expert Availability: Instructors, particularly expatriates, are more willing and able to assist with training delivery in Dushanbe than in Afghanistan.
  • Security: Security in Dushanbe is generally excellent with a terrorist threat assessed as only moderate and a minimal risk of crime.
  • Distractions: Students who have travelled to another country from their duty stations are far less likely to be distracted by calls from work or unexpected redeployments than if they were in Afghanistan. This aids their concentration and ensures that they attend daily and get the maximum benefit from their training.

Training-The-Trainers (T3)

Inevitably, funding sources for such projects will eventually diminish. When this happens the availability of external trainers will be greatly reduced if not eliminated. By investing in the development of local training capability within Afghanistan and Tajikistan’s Border Forces, the T3 approach ensures that capacity is built and capability will endure beyond the reallocation of resources.

Low-maintenance buildings

The issues of maintenance and the sustainability of project actions have been discussed many times. BOMNAF are now working on low maintenance or maintenance free designs for all border facilities constructions. While concerns about maintenance and upkeep of facilities built for the Afghan Border Police, are accepted, this seems to be small argument for not assisting in renovation and new buildings that will become part of the West’s conflict with terrorism, counter insurgency and illegal narcotics. The landscape of terrorism is not static; it is very mobile. The threat is manifold; it moves and local security forces must be ready to adapt from flexible, functioning, effective, operational and active bases on this vitally important border.

Solar Power

Electrical needs for operations of border outposts in remote areas are problematic, primarily this is as a result of the fuel and maintenance inputs required for electrical generation equipment. Economic constraints of the Afghan government, and difficult access to checkpoints result in delay of start-up and of operation of electronic systems. Solar and alternative and reusable energy options reduce the need for diesel powered generators. Therefore, such options are provided at all EU-BOMNAF locations.

Environmental and sustainable standards

Infrastructure facilities are sometimes inadequately maintained and serviced. Taking into account lessons learned from previous projects, EU-BOMNAF have already built 21st century –designed, low maintenance infrastructure, with ecologically-appropriate designs and environmentally sound equipment incorporated on the border. No more diesel generators. No more central heating or boiler rooms, no more electric AirCon. Current and future constructions are planned with trees planted to provide natural shade and cooler areas for summertime meetings. Heating is also provided by multi-fuel stoves and the option of local fuel from specifically planted trees. For buildings and facilities’ maintenance, EU-BOMNAF has already provided ‘self-help’ tool kits and maintenance packages of wood, glass, paint, roofing sheets, hand tools and other items to each detachment within the current project. This could be expanded and local input further investigated, to assist in the upkeep of facilities provided.

Polaris ATV 4×4 Quad Bikes

Transportation in remote, off-road regions is a challenging issue. The use and abuse of Ford Ranger pick-up trucks, UAZ jeeps, Landcruisers and various other vehicles, all donated by other agencies, has been observed over the past several years. Afghanistan’s northern border is littered with the wreckage of their carcasses. Horses were donated as part of a non-EU, non-UN, bilateral project in northern Badakhshan during 2008; by 2009, they were all dead. BOMNAF Project has now equipped the Afghan Border Police (ABP) on the northern border with ATV POLARIS 4x4 All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) and the vehicles are integrated to ABP maintenance and servicing regimes, as well as training programmes for drivers and mechanics, also implemented by BOMNAF. Whilst this is apparently a successful answer to local transport, patrol and communication problems, much work still needs to be done to ensure regular repairs and efficient husbandry of the vehicles.

Maintenance of equipment

Equipment provided under previous projects is not always well managed. Beneficiaries’ difficulties with maintenance and use of hi-tech equipment persist. We should therefore continue to moderate provision of sophisticated technology during the current stage of assistance. In the meantime, BOMNAF continues to train beneficiaries in appropriate use and upkeep of equipment donated.

What didn’t work

Infrastructure development – electricity

Electrical power in the region is a problem. It is often both unreliable and not available. Whilst donors’ preference for less “input oriented” projects is understood, it is also realized that Development without electricity and without appropriate facilities is a very difficult equation. Only 30% of Afghanistan’s population have access to electricity from grid-based power, micro-hydro or solar panels. Mismanagement and shortages of both electricity and water have adversely affected agricultural production and local living standards. The situation is a driver of social issues and is likely to be exacerbated by increasing instability moving through northern Afghanistan and already approaching Central Asia. Afghanistan’s northern border remains the frontline against international terrorist and extremist organizations, as well as against narcotics trafficking and weapons smuggling. To offset such challenges and assist in the creation of an environment where development can take place, there is a clear requirement to provide reliable electricity within the borderlands regions.

Generators

Diesel-powered generators have been donated as component parts of BOMBAF and other projects but their use has proved to be problematic due to the need for fuel and the lack of adequate maintenance by users. Diesel-powered electricity generators were supplied as part of the BOMBAF project, with the proviso that fuel and maintenance would be the responsibility of the ABP. This agreement was not honoured by GiROA and so the generators continue to be used sparingly or not at all. The consequence of this failure is that generators left idle for periods of weeks and even months, become inoperable through lack of use and then require significant and expensive servicing before being brought back into use. Spare parts, tools and fuel supplied for generators are also very often lost, mislaid and misused, sometimes causing generators to become beyond economical repair. This situation has caused the current BOMNAF Project to concentrate on more appropriate forms of electricity provision, i.e. solar power.

Communication with governments

Practical possibilities and linkages for dialogue with governments at the operational level are insufficient. In both Afghanistan and Tajikistan there are few governmental agencies or personalities who will readily meet or communicate with project staff members. Email communications are routinely ignored or unanswered, hard copy letters are often ‘lost’ or overlooked and telephone numbers are usually either classified or unanswered. There is in Central Asia a legacy of secrecy, an isolation of the border forces and a culture of ‘illegalism’. Very considerable effort needs to be expended to create or maintain relationships, this seems also to be due to incapability or because governments either do not trust their own people, project staff, or both.

Visas

As well as to allow freer movement of project staff members, more flexible visa regimes to facilitate trade and development across the region are needed. Geographically speaking, travel between Tajikistan and Afghanistan is BOMNAF Project’s most important area of activity; but very significant concerns remain about delays and barriers to the status and freedom of travel for project staff, partners and contractors on both sides of the international border. Routine applications for visas, travel permits and visa extensions for Afghanistan and Tajikistan, are often rejected out of hand by consular staff and sometimes will not even be considered until tortuous bureaucratic procedures, sometimes taking weeks to complete, have been negotiated.

Lessons learned

After more than seven years of successful project activities on the Afghanistan-Central Asia border, considerable lessons that may be useful in future, and to other projects in the area, have been learned.

Flexibility in implementation

Although BOMNAF continues to plan to best address the needs of beneficiaries through involving them in planning and implementation of the project, it has often been the case that more and more ‘needs’ arise during the implementation phase that require changes in quantity of equipment, design of construction sub-projects, schedule of a certain activity, etc. Meeting all these needs within the timeframe of the project and within administrative limitations, required additional effort and lead to more delays with overall completion of projects.

Contracts and procurements

Avoidance of administrative and bureaucratic delays with procurement processes remains critical to the successful implementation of contracts, especially for construction activities, particularly in difficult geographic and seasonally-sensitive regions. Although some parts of such delays may sometimes be ameliorated through improvement of communication between project and procurement units, it remains vital that all parts of the administrative process continue to be responsive and supportive to all project elements. UNDP is often a process-driven organisation; conversely, project managements are motivated by the requirement for results on the ground and because these are usually time-bound, there is seldom opportunity to hesitate or expend unplanned time on processes which might slow down construction or procurement of project components.

Government and political will

In order for the region to develop economically and socially and for border management projects to reach maximum efficiency in planning and usefulness in operation, there is a clear and fundamental requirement for maximum coordination between the various donors and associated projects involved in this sector, as well as between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Without continued, sustained, developing and practical commitment and political will from governments on both sides of The Oxus River, this cannot occur. In addition, it is clear that regional governments regard border management as a function primarily of security. Trade, commerce and legal activities presently remain a poor second.

Continuous liaison and collaboration

Promotion of Inter Agency and Regional Cross-Border cooperation between law enforcement agencies requires continuous and regular liaison by project assigned staff. The intermediation role of the BOMNAF project has proved to be instrumental in organising and conducting joint events across the region which have increased and improved coordination and communication across national frontiers.

Security – general

For much of the past three years, the security threat level in Northern Afghanistan has been minimal to moderate. But the situation has changed and continues to develop negatively. Project staff members need to be properly trained, aware and sufficiently knowledgeable about local situations to enable informed decisions to be made at the right times. Circumstances which are more or less out of sight or control of Country Office often occur, including situations caused by the business practices of project contractors and their agents, which may have a serious impact on project staff safety and their ability to conduct their work. Effective managers need to be prepared to manage incidents and situations which may develop unexpectedly.

Security – risk mitigation at construction project sites

To mitigate security risks for project staff and contractors in the field and to prevent corruption and interference in implementation of project activities by local police and other commanders, the project closely monitored field activities with immediate communication and reporting of such activities to beneficiaries’ top management. During 2013-14 at least six such issues were prevented and resolved in this manner.

Need to improve cooperation with local communities at project sites

The local community must be consulted when planning and implementing construction projects for the Afghan Border Police. For example, during 2013, the community of Chasmai Tut objected to the location of latrines at the Battalion HQ that is under construction. Their requirements were met swiftly and the latrine construction spots were relocated, but to avoid similar issues in the future it is advised to familiarise local community leaders with the construction design and consider their concerns during the planning stage.

Training

Proactive efforts to communicate necessary actions on the part of the beneficiary must continue throughout planning and implementation of every planned training event. Notwithstanding the provision of training schedules and training dates, beneficiaries always require assistance in maintaining timelines, so that training is completed as scheduled. Planners and managers were able to avoid or mitigate potential issues by preparing formal Administrative Plans for each event, followed by appropriate planning meetings leading up to the event.