Presented at the RAND Corporation
Keynote Address by M. Ashraf Haidari
Before our discussion, please allow me to thank the many area experts and researchers at the RAND Corporation for your significant contributions to knowledge and information on Afghanistan. Your occasional papers have greatly helped shape constructive policies towards stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan.
At the outset, I wish to express the deep gratitude of the Afghan people and government to our partner nations for their strong support over the past seven years. Without their assistance, Afghanistan's liberation from the tyranny of extremists and terrorists would have been unimaginable. We are particularly thankful to the American soldiers and their families for helping secure Afghanistan and making the world a safer place for all of us.
Today, there is much that we may talk about our recent history and the way contemporary international events have affected the conditions in Afghanistan. But I would like to discuss the key challenges facing the Afghan people now, as we and our international partners strive to secure and rebuild Afghanistan.
I believe that four inter-connected challenges with domestic, international, regional, and transnational dimensions impede the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan. Each challenge—which I will discuss in a minute—feeds off the other and together they have engendered a vicious circle that is destabilizing Afghanistan.
I would like to discuss briefly each of the four major challenges for the sake of our discussion.
First, we are a country that is geographically landlocked, politically and economically least developed, and unfortunately located in a predatory neighborhood, where at least Pakistan sees a stable Afghanistan as a threat. Also, our nascent state institutions are too weak, and we lack the requisite resources to deliver basic public goods to our population of vulnerable groups (e.g. returning refugees, IDPs, the disabled, former combatants, jobless youth, the elderly, and women and children), all of whom are engulfed in poverty and misery.
Second, one of the key challenges posed to Afghanistan's nation-building process comes from a lack of aid resources and weak strategic coordination of aid implementation by the international community. As your colleague, Mr. James Dobbins, noted in his book, "Mismatches between inputs, as measured in personnel and money, and desired outcomes, as measured in imposed social transformation, are the most common cause for failure of nation-building efforts."
I think Mr. Dobbins' statement is exactly defining the direction we are heading in Afghanistan today. As you know, too few troops and resources were committed to our country from the beginning. At the same time, the invasion and occupation of Iraq shortchanged our rebuilding priorities, robbing the new Afghan state of much needed resources to establish our effective governance and security presence across Afghanistan.
We know from one of the RAND studies that in the two years following international intervention, Afghanistan received just $57 per capita in foreign assistance, while Bosnia and East Timor received $679 and $233 per capita respectively. We also know that per capita security assistance to Afghanistan remains low with 2 foreign troops per 1,000 people compared to 7 per 1,000 in Iraq and 19 per 1,000 in Bosnia.
I also think that international intervention in Afghanistan has suffered from a lack of clear institutional framework for nation-building. We know that despite international consensus and goodwill for the rebuilding of Afghanistan from the beginning, the United Nations has remained a weak player in Afghanistan. As you know, although the UN provides the most suitable institutional framework for most nation-building interventions, the role of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) remains one of political consulting, providing good offices, and promoting human rights.
I think UNAMA was deliberately denied an operational role in the beginning, perhaps, due to fears that donor fatigue would soon kick in, which would result in undelivered pledges of assistance to Afghanistan. Therefore, a lead-nation strategy was adopted, whereby major resourceful countries assumed responsibility for the reform and building of Afghanistan's key state institutions. The lead-nation strategy assigned the United States to reform and build the Afghan National Army (ANA); Germany the Afghan National Police (ANP); Japan to disarm, demobilize, and fully reintegrate (DDR) former combatants; Britain to fight and eliminate narcotics (CN); and Italy to reform and build the judicial system.
However, we understand that except for substantive progress in the reform and building of ANA, the other sectors have seen nominal or no progress, because although progress in each sector depended on progress in other sectors given their inter-connectedness, the lead nations neither established a collaborative mechanism to ensure strategic coordination across their assigned tasks nor did they bring enough resources to bear on implementing the reforms effectively. In the end, the lead-nation strategy was discontinued, as the designated countries reconsidered their roles as lead-partners, and reasoned that only we should be the lead-nation with them as our major implementing partners.
International intervention in Afghanistan has also lacked the necessary degree of local ownership of the nation-building process. Local ownership as Afghans in the driver's seat of the rebuilding process is mostly absent, since most of the aid resources bypass the Afghan government and go to foreign non-profit and private sector institutions. An estimated 40% of aid goes back to donor countries in corporate profits and consultant salaries, some $6 billion since 2001, according to a recent report by the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR).
With resources diverted from our institutions, we can hardly retain competitive employees for effective service delivery, and often lose them to higher paid jobs with international organizations. So, it is obvious that weak institutional capacity and underpayment cause widespread corruption in the government system. Rife corruption in turn harms the legitimacy of the government in the public eyes, which we know leaves a negative impact on both governance and security across Afghanistan.
Finally, I think the international community has only paid lip service to strategic coordination but never attempted to be coordinated. More than 70 countries, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations are present in Afghanistan. Yet, they have consistently worked outside of the Afghan government. For example, of all technical assistance to Afghanistan, which accounts for a quarter of all aid to the country, only one-tenth is coordinated among donors or with the government. Nor is there sufficient collaboration on project work, which inevitably leads to duplication or incoherence of activities by different donors. This has seriously undermined the Afghan government's ability to build our capacity for effective governance and implementation of the rule of law.
Third, Afghanistan would be far less instable if we were not geographically cursed. Our political and economic stability or instability is closely linked to the type of regimes in power in the region, those regimes' particular regional interests, their socio-economic conditions, and more importantly their relations with one another and with major world powers such as the United States. Without understanding and addressing the challenges posed by the regional dynamics, it is extremely hard to achieve long-term stability in Afghanistan. As you know, today, the main source and cause of instability in Afghanistan lie outside our borders in Pakistan.
Fourth, on the transnational level, Al Qaeda and its affiliates have fully reconstituted themselves seven years after 9/11, and are increasingly guiding and directing the Taliban's cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan. Operating from safe sanctuaries in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda and its Pakistani affiliates continue to inspire, indoctrinate, and brainwash jobless and frustrated youth in the Pakistani madrassas, which the Taliban use as recruiting ground for their operations in Afghanistan.
At the same time, transnational drug mafia has found Afghanistan a permissive environment for mass drug production to meet global demand. They have strategically joined hands with the Taliban and other peace spoilers to maintain instability in Afghanistan for ongoing drug production and trafficking.
I think the fact that these four challenges are inter-connected and feed one another make Afghanistan by far the most complicated and resource-intensive international intervention since the end of the Cold War. I do believe that securing and rebuilding Afghanistan is a far more challenging task for the international community than was Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, or even Iraq. But there are no options for the international community in Afghanistan but to succeed there. We know that the specter of revisiting 9/11 is ever becoming likely with the Al Qaeda and Taliban fully resurgent in Pakistan's tribal region, from where they have managed to score frequent tactical gains across south and east of Afghanistan.
So, if we are keenly aware of the cost of neglecting Afghanistan again, then what should be the way forward? How can we succeed in our collective efforts to secure Afghanistan and ensure international peace and security for our own sake?
First of all, in a country where there are too many inter-connected and overlapping problems competing for urgent resolution, we need to narrow down our key priorities and focus on the ones with the potential of helping resolve the rest overtime. This means a departure from ad hoc approaches to nation-building in Afghanistan where tax payers' precious assistance has so far been wasted on quick fixes, which have made no real difference in the lives of the Afghan people over the past seven years.
I would like to share with you my thoughts on how to help rescue Afghanistan out of its dangerous traps, and forward to your views and comments in our discussion.
Domestically, it critically important that we prioritize the strengthening of our nascent state institutions so we will soon gain the capacity to govern effectively, address the corruption problem, and adopt and implement policies that promote long-term economic growth. Without security and good governance, we will be unable to attract foreign capital intensive investment in the natural resource and infrastructure sectors, which we know can help provide off-farm employment for poppy farmers and jobs for the returning refugees. And we know from the experience of many developing countries (from the "Rise of the Rest": China, India, Brazil, Turkey, South Korea, Malaysia and others) that only sustainable economic growth will help reduce poverty in Afghanistan, not any unlimited amount of relief hand-outs.
Therefore, we hope that the international community will deliver on the commitments they made in the recent Paris Support Conference to align their aid resources with the objectives of our Marshall Plan—the Afghanistan National Development Strategy—a key priority of which is to build institutional capacity in order to address overtime other domestic challenges facing Afghanistan.
I think it is important to stress that Afghanistan cannot achieve self-reliance and self-sufficiency unless the international community enables it to do so. In light of our massive rebuilding needs, the international community must match ends with means. Committing long-term resources is absolutely necessary but ensuring that aid is effectively delivered through Afghan state institutions to achieve the objectives of our National Development Strategy is equally important.
To ensure strategic coordination across the donor community, the international community must provide the requisite resources—as recently requested by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon—to operationalize UNAMA in Afghanistan, and be willing to be coordinated by the Special Representative of the Secretary General Kai Eide.
Regionally, the United States and other NATO member states with troops in Afghanistan must realize that so long as Pakistan shelters the leadership of Al Qaeda and Taliban and allow them space to operate in its tribal region, the Taliban will not be defeated in Afghanistan. Military and civilian casualties will continue rising—gradually giving the terrorists an upper hand. Therefore, Pakistan's military and intelligence services must be bilaterally and multilaterally persuaded to cooperate sincerely in the war against terrorism, while the country's civil society must be strengthened in support of democratic civilian rule on the long run.
At the same time, NATO needs to bolster its military strength in the fight against cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan. The commanders on the ground are asking for three additional well-equipped brigades with a flexible mandate to boost efforts to defeat the Taliban.
Ultimately, I think the key to securing Afghanistan will rest in the build-up of a professional Afghan army and police. To accelerate the process, we ask for more military and police trainers from all of our partners to build the Afghan national security forces to reach the targeted goals of 80,000 soldiers for the Afghan National Army, and 82,000 officers for the Afghan National Police by the end of 2009.
I also think that overcoming our regional challenges partly depends on how the US conducts itself in the region and the approach it adopts towards its geopolitical interests in our important region. Pursuing a coherent and long-term policy will not only serve American interests in the region but also contribute to stability in Afghanistan.
Finally, I think the transnational challenges facing Afghanistan are closely linked to our domestic, international and regional challenges, which I just discussed. More capacity in the state with resources to execute our executive, legislative, and judicial functions will inevitably improve governance, enhance the welfare of people, and bolster the strength of our law enforcement and security institutions against terrorists and drug traffickers. The international community must achieve this objective by coordinating their aid efforts with the Afghan government and make the achievement of a self-reliant Afghan state their exit strategy.
I believe that failure to do so will only strengthen the Taliban and weaken the trust of Afghans in democracy and their support as a strategic asset in the fight against terrorism. But we know that failure in Afghanistan is no longer an option, and peace can hardly take hold in Pakistan without stability in Afghanistan. Nor can global security be ensured without consolidation of our democratic achievements over the past seven years.
Let us hope then that all stakeholders sincerely commit to success in Afghanistan, and exit our country only when we are firmly on own feet.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the Political Counselor of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington DC. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
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