Miilits: I had the feeling that one day I can return as a tourist

Tarmo Miilits worked as the deputy head of the European Union Afghan police mission (EUPOL). PHOTO: Sander Ilvest

In 2013–2016, more precisely for two years and three months, with the regimen of two months at work and two weeks at home, Tarmo Miilits worked as the deputy head of the European Union Afghan police mission (EUPOL).

He advised the Afghan ministry of the interior on police reform, anti-corruption measures and the development of police intelligence. When Miilits left the mission, he believed that anther ten years of purposeful activities would result in a sufficiently safe Afghanistan for tourists. He was wrong.

You perceive the situation in Afghanistan better than many others. You know the people their manners, their mentality.

You could say that. When I first went on the mission I was the head of the EU police mission field offices. We had field offices in 13 regions of Afghanistan we had to visit more or less regularly. I could see the whole spectrum – not just Kabul. The various ethnic groups, the different levels of education, how poor or rich they were. Once you consider all the regional peculiarities and add the religious differences you can begin to understand what a complicated country it is.

As for figures… I noticed in the media that there may have been some 80,000 fighters of the Taliban. When I was still in Afghanistan, their army and police together amounted to slightly more than 300,000. Considering the training and armament and naturally the time spent on it – all the twenty years spent on trying to create and build something… How could it be lost in ten days?

You were surprised by the outcome?

I was surprised that there was no serious resistance. As far as I have seen in the news, there may have been some resistance in the northern region. While I was there – we had a field office in Mazār-e Sharīf – this region was considered a more developed one. It had the same people at power or a long time – all right, that was a part of corruption and nepotism – but the central authority as very strong in that area. You could say that there was order. And indeed, the economy worked and people went to school… They may have offered stronger resistance to the Taliban but that remained short-term as well.

How to explain the rapid surrender?

It is very difficult to explain it in a single headline. It is a large country – by territory as well as by population. The distances between regions are large and they are separated from each other due to the mountainous terrain. Even cell phone coverage and the internet were not always available. The standards varied greatly as to regions. Plus the weakness of the central government and the fragmentation of the state. Unfortunately, Afghanistan never reached the stage where the people had any elementary confidence in the state structures and organizations. Instead, the ordinary citizens rather feared the state structures. Because of corruption, behavior... And the essence of laws – there was the eternal question of whether the sharia law or the state law is in force. Which of them is supreme? They often closed their eyes to how the state structures themselves behaved. In some situations it was about which ones were crueler, the national army or the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. Actually they were all brutal. If you are talking about the state, the rule of law, one expects the state structures to have a different approach. The line between a state structure and a terrorist organization was very vague for the locals. One had to fear them all. They all could rob or kill.

I have to admit that the state organizations could not grow, cleanse themselves, get rid of corruption. They never reached as far as to respect the law and human rights.

When you left five years ago, did you feel that this was a country beyond hope?

I spent the final two years mostly in Kabul and may have remained to naïve. But I really had the feeling that maybe in another ten years I could visit the beautiful locations of the country as a tourist. Because some regions were already safer and more peaceful. Progress was apparent in several state structures – the police, for example. But as we can see, I was naïve.

The common people’s attitude towards the Western presence and aid remained dismissive. They did not accept it?

One cannot be that unequivocal. After all, it also depends on how educated one is, how much of the world he has seen. Among those we met there were many people who had received good education in some Western country and worked seriously and with hope… But eventually it is too complicated to say what the average Afghan resident understood or thought. It is a fact that general educational level, literacy and access to information are very limited in that country.

The Taliban is now attempting to make an impression that there would be no retaliation. That they take over peacefully.

We shall see. It is difficult to predict whether and when we shall hear about the horrors which may begin there.

The situation will become tough?

I do fear that it may become very tough there.

How worried are you about those who cooperated with you?

As for the ones who worked as interpreters or on other posts with our mission, I know no one who stayed in Afghanistan. They left for the Western countries over the past three years. The other category is certainly those who held various posts of the government – predominantly men over 50, relatively influential people. I have no idea what happened to them – maybe they escaped from the country or defected to the other side. I do not know…

Do you have direct personal contacts with the colleagues there?

I have communicated with several people we worked together during our mission. I cannot deny that I became friendly with several of them. Actually they are also shocked and worried about the relatives who remained in the country.

Therefore the whole Afghanistan action was a waste of effort?

One could say that the troops were withdrawn too early. It is my personal opinion that the organizations should have been given more time to become stronger. We should have monitored them for longer… But I have to say that during these years that region and the neighboring areas were generally safe. We did not hear much about serious terrorist acts in the world related to their terrorist organization. This matter was successfully suppressed.