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Fri. July 23, 2021
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Winning the Elusive Peace in Afghanistan
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By Shaida M. Abdali and M. Ashraf Haidari Almost eight years have passed since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but peace remains elusive in the country. In pondering why security has been hard to come by in Afghanistan, Western commentators—particularly progressive observers in the United States—have jumped to easy conclusions, likening Afghanistan to “America’s second Vietnam” or saying the country is a “graveyard of empires” where it is not worth fighting for freedom and democracy anymore. Not only are these statements simplistic but they also ignore the fact that the United States is in Afghanistan because of the tragedy of September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which killed more than 3,000 Americans. Al Qaeda—sheltered by the Taliban—masterminded these attacks in Afghanistan. Now Al Qaeda and the Taliban are fully resurgent, increasingly destabilizing the region and endangering American national security interests, too. Unfortunately, Afghans’ continued support for international forces has also been overlooked. Mischaracterization of Afghans’ attitude toward foreign troops is a mistake frequently made by prominent policy analysts in the West. They hardly acknowledge that while Afghans perceived the Soviet forces as occupiers in 1980s, today they perceive American and NATO forces as Afghanistan’s liberators—a favorable Afghan popular perception that needs to be maintained for success in the fight against violent extremism. Also, Afghans hardly have high expectations from the international community. “Give us amenyat, or peace, and the rest we will take care of,” is a basic demand of the Afghan people. Despite these facts, we think four interlocking challenges with internal, regional, transnational and international dimensions impede Afghanistan's stabilization and reconstruction. Each challenge facing Afghanistan feeds off the other, and together they have engendered a vicious circle that is destabilizing the country. Let us briefly look at each. · Afghanistan is a least-developed and most destroyed country, with new state institutions that lack basic capacity and resources to administer their mandates. This is compounded by the country's expanding population, 70 percent of which is illiterate and yet demands jobs that do not exist. Taken together, abject poverty, a lack of basic services and a demographic explosion significantly contribute to instability in Afghanistan. · It is now clear to everyone that the Taliban leadership continues to receive protection from the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment, which were behind the creation and implementation of the Taliban movement project in Afghanistan during 1990s until the puppet regime’s fall in late 2001. It stands to reason that without an external sanctuary, sustainable funding and weapons supplies, and intelligence support in Pakistan, the Taliban could hardly regroup to begin with. Since 2003, the Taliban and their affiliated networks have gradually expanded their influence in the ungoverned southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, launching daily violent attacks there that have caused the killing and injuring of thousands of innocent civilians. If Afghanistan did not have this major regional security problem originating from Pakistan, the country could make so much more progress with resources worth billions of dollars annually being spent on anti-Taliban military operations. · Afghanistan is also extremely vulnerable to transnational security threats that transcend international borders. Narcotics and terrorism stand out, for instance. The security threats are closely connected to Afghanistan’s internal and regional challenges, as they feed one another. Rife poverty and weak governance, for example, are as much responsible for mass drug production in Afghanistan as are global demand for narcotics and an alliance between the Taliban and drug traffickers, who exploit Afghanistan’s vulnerable population and destabilize the country. This is further compounded by a lack of regional cooperation to stem trafficking of precursor chemicals into Afghanistan and smuggling of finished narcotic products, such as heroin, out of the country. · The way the international community has so far operated in Afghanistan has unfortunately had the unintended consequence of further weakening the nascent state in the country. Although the diversity of nations present in Afghanistan demonstrates international goodwill and consensus for supporting the country, each contributing nation has pursued their own aid strategies, effectively bypassing coordination with one another and the Afghan government. Hence, a lack of strategic coordination across international military and civilian efforts to ensure aid effectiveness has crippled the Afghan state and left it with no capacity and resources to deliver basic services to people. Some blame official corruption—a major problem in all less developed countries and post-conflict societies—for every problem in Afghanistan. But the fact is that corruption is a symptom of weak governance, which cannot be improved in absence of a comprehensive state-building strategy to strengthen the state so that it can gradually gain a firm hold on and execute the sovereign affairs of Afghanistan. We believe that the above challenges make Afghanistan by far the most complicated post-conflict international intervention since the end of the Cold War. It is important to note, however, that in the face of the above complex challenges, Afghanistan and its international partners have two significant advantages, which must be fully harnessed to regain the momentum we need to win the peace in Afghanistan. First, the vast majority of the Afghan people still support international presence in Afghanistan and want the international community to succeed there. Afghans understand that there is no alternative to democracy and freedom, which they demand be institutionalized in Afghanistan with international support. Second, after eight years of learning by doing, Afghanistan and its international partners must have learned invaluable lessons from our shared successes and failures. Above all, the parallel aid bureaucracy, which is operating side by side the Afghan state and from which it is sapping precious aid resources, must be torn down if we wish to enable the Afghan government to stand on its own. This means a firm recommitment to bottom-up and top-down institutional capacity building in the Afghan government so that Afghans increasingly initiate, design, and implement reconstruction projects on their own. Meantime, the Afghan national security forces must be assisted to gain the capabilities they need to execute successful independent operations against the enemy. This way, they will gradually relieve international forces of the duty Afghans consider as theirs to defend Afghanistan now and in the future. The Afghan people have placed much hope and trust in the new U.S. strategy, adopted by the Obama Administration in March 2009, to help address the above security challenges confronting Afghanistan. But this long-term and necessary task cannot be accomplished by the United States alone. We believe that every state in the region and beyond must have a high stake in the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan—knowing that the effects of violent extremism and insecurity in one country can easily spill over to affect the rest in a globalized world. Thus, with Afghans leading the way forward, the burden of securing Afghanistan must be shared by the whole international community both to win the peace in the country and to ensure a safer world for everyone. Shaida M. Abdali is Deputy National Security Advisor and Special Assistant to President Hamid Karzai; he recently completed an international fellowship with the U.S. National Defense University. M. Ashraf Haidari is the Political Counselor of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington-DC; he was Peace Scholar and Fellow in Foreign Service at Georgetown University during 2002-2005.

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