The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime's recently published summary report on Afghanistan's opium harvest in 2013 paints a dire picture on first glance: Estimated opium poppy cultivation expanded by 36 percent and, at 209,000 hectares (ha), set a new record, slightly exceeding the previous record of 193,000 ha in 2007. While estimated opium production in 2013, at 5,500 metric tons, is only the fourth-highest year recorded (well below the 2007 peak level of 7,400 metric tons), it rose steeply -- by almost 50 percent -- from 2012. And despite a modest reduction in opium prices, the volume of drug money -- most of which goes to drug traffickers, their sponsors and associates inside and outside the government, and to warlords and the Taliban insurgency -- also has risen sharply.
However, the temptation to see these developments in alarmist (or even apocalyptic) terms must be resisted. While the growth and spread of the opium economy in 2013 is concerning, it does not represent a fundamental change in the situation, and poorly thought out and misguided reactions would cause more harm than good and could turn out to be more problematic and destabilizing than the rise in opium cultivation and production itself.
Part of the increase in 2013, which was predicted and should not have come as a major surprise, can be attributed to the large year-to-year fluctuations that have always been the norm for Afghanistan's opium economy, especially since 2012 was a year of low yields and production. This reflects the importance of weather and other factors for Afghan agriculture more broadly, with a climate characterized by low and variable precipitation and little in the way of water conservancy investments to stabilize water supplies. Moreover, the 2013 figures are not grossly out of line with longer-term trends in opium cultivation and production. In fact, estimated opium production is exactly in line with those trends (as projected based on 1995-2012 data). Although the cultivated area is somewhat higher (about 25%) than the long-term trend, this is similar to some of the annual fluctuations seen in earlier years.
What 2013 does underline, however, is the resumption of continuing growth of Afghanistan's opium economy after temporary and unsustainable reductions in poppy cultivation and opium production in the years following the 2007 peak. This is not surprising, as the factors which supported those reductions have been dissipating.
First, the withdrawal of U.S. and other international military forces, especially from key opium-producing provinces like Helmand and Kandahar, has been reducing the overall security presence and associated pressure to reduce poppy cultivation, particularly in more remote areas where the Afghan National Army is not able to maintain the level of activities carried out previously by International Security Assistance Forces. Even though international troops were not directly involved in the eradication of poppy fields, their presence provided a security umbrella for counter-narcotics activities and also was used by Afghan officials as a threat against local leaders and farmers to dissuade them from cultivating poppies.
Second, funding for programs promoting alternative livelihoods is being sharply reduced, leaving much smaller potential financial incentives for farmers and other local actors. Even though such programs were not sustainable and were often characterized by inefficiency and waste, adequate funding will clearly be a prerequisite for effective and sustained rural development in the future.
Third, concomitant with foreign troop withdrawals and reductions in international funding, the political leverage to press for counter-narcotics actions is declining. Moreover, the drug issue is likely to be distinctly secondary on the list of political priorities for the United States and other international partners.
Fourth, domestic political and other trends in Afghanistan have weakened the ability to contain, let alone curtail, the opium economy. The 2014-2015 election cycle is distracting from drug issues and will likely lead to avoidance of politically sensitive counter-narcotics actions; some stalwart anti-opium provincial governors have been weakened or changed in the past year or so; there has been some recovery of opium yields from unusually low levels in 2012; and prices for opium remain relatively high despite modest reductions.
These recent trends, which are expected to continue in the future, demonstrate that the counter-narcotics policies implemented during the past decade, reliant as they were on temporary factors and, as in the case of the Helmand "Food Zone," endeavoring to replace opium largely with wheat (a low-value, relatively low labor-intensity crop with no export prospects), were not sustainable. Moreover, the suppression of poppy cultivation in core growing areas, such as the canal area of central Helmand, stimulated a shift of farmers and cultivation to new areas, leading to the further spread and entrenchment of opium.
Even though predictable and occurring for understandable reasons, the adverse impacts of recent developments should not be minimized, including:
However, there are also some mitigating factors that need to be kept in mind:
In any case, knee-jerk reactions and ill thought-out actions against the illicit narcotics trade in Afghanistan will be counterproductive. Whether aerial spraying or massive eradication of the opium crop at one extreme, or attempts to institute licensed opium production for legal pharmaceuticals at the other, there are no "silver bullets." These options, as well as other simplistic solutions, are not implementable or sustainable and will make the situation worse.
What, then, can be done? First, modest expectations and a long-term time horizon are called for on the part of both the international community and the Afghan government; eliminating illicit opium cultivation in Afghanistan most likely will be the work of decades, not years.
Second, there is a need to be prepared for growth in the opium economy in coming years and to avoid hand-wringing or overreaction. In particular, adverse short-term developments and fluctuations should not become an excuse for the international community to sharply cut or stop overall funding for Afghanistan, let alone exit from the country.
Third, preserving gains made in eliminating opium poppy cultivation in localities with favorable resource endowments, good access to water resources, proximity to urban markets, good roads, and at least a modicum of government presence and security will be very important and is certainly possible based on past experience.
Fourth, law enforcement efforts against drug traffickers, drug transport, heroin processing, and money laundering need to continue and be built upon over time, keeping in mind that progress inevitably will be gradual.
Fifth, investments in rural infrastructure -- in particular major water conservancy projects -- will be essential. More generally, broad-based rural development is the way forward over the medium-term to enable rural areas to escape from dependence on opium poppy cultivation, requiring sizable investments and effective programs to this end.
Sixth, value chains for suitable Afghan labor-intensive cash crops that enable them to reach both domestic and export markets will need to be developed. There is no substitute for the private sector to do this -- particularly elements of the international private sector that represent and link to the demand side and will be able to promote and ensure the essential quality and health and safety standards for exports. Creative ways to incentivize the international private sector to engage with Afghanistan in this way will need to be found.
Finally, it has to be recognized that none of this will be easy, that the drug industry will be present in Afghanistan for quite some time, and that keeping modest expectations while avoiding major mistakes and wrong turns on the counter-narcotics front will be essential.
William Byrd is a senior expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. The views expressed here are his own.
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
As I scrolled through my Inbox earlier this week for my daily news clippings from this blog, something seemed amiss. Instead of "AfPak Channel," the header read "South Asia Channel." An error I presumed. Scrolling down further, however, I realized the error was mine: "Next Monday, November 25, the AfPak Channel will be relaunched as the South Asia Channel" with the addition of "key stories and insights from India."
The notification got me thinking about the twists and turns in Washington's conception of South Asia over the past decade. Somewhere along the way "AfPak" had appeared. Due to the distortions it produced, the phrase has for some time now been winding its way into retirement. The 2014 drawdown in Afghanistan will give it the final push. AfPak will no doubt have plenty of company with "hearts and minds" and countless other pithy friends in Washington's little known Archives for Foreign Affairs Shorthands of Fleeting Value. Can't say I'll miss it.
I came to Washington ten years ago to work as an analyst in the Henry L. Stimson Center's South Asia program. Having grown up in Pakistan, I had actually never uttered the phrase "South Asia." The region to me was a simple, if tormented, duality: Pakistan and India. I discovered that in Washington, South Asia meant the same two players, and the issues boiled down to Kashmir, militancy, military, and nuclear issues. Afghanistan was relegated to its own war-torn limbo.
At the time, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf and Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were talking about peace between the two countries. Both have since fallen silent, with the former facing treason charges; between India's upcoming elections and Pakistan's unending turmoil, peace commands little attention in Delhi and Islamabad today. The United States was two years into the war in Afghanistan, yet the lens on South Asia was varied. Afghanistan was a policy imperative, but so was managing the Indo-Pak rivalry and the risk of nuclear escalation.
Those working on South Asia in Washington seemed to fall into two camps. The South Asia wallahs had spent decades working in and on the region, often with formal academic training. The Cold Warriors sought to apply lessons from a superpower rivalry to a relatively nascent nuclear dynamic on the subcontinent. They reflected the fluidity of functional analysts within the strategic community -- crossing boundaries while the regionalists remained in their lanes.
Soon enough, a new crop of functional analysts crossed over. They anchored their world views on a different issue: counterterrorism. Thereafter came "AfPak." The phrase traces back to the first year of the Obama administration and the tenure of the first Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), Richard Holbrooke. A region that was once viewed as India-Pakistan, with Afghanistan on the margins, gave way to India on one hand and Afghanistan-Pakistan on the other.
With the change, India got its wish to be "de-hyphenated" from Pakistan. The Bush administration keenly helped facilitate this shift via a civil nuclear deal, in light of India's perceived strategic import in Asia. Meanwhile, AfPak eventually flipped to "PakAf" given deepening concerns about the various militant groups that were "veritable" arms of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and the safety of its nuclear arsenal.
To be sure, AfPak helped focus attention on the war in Afghanistan after a misguided invasion in Iraq. It framed the theatre and the operational challenge posed by "safe havens" in Pakistan. Though Holbrooke espoused a wider view within its confines on forging a broader partnership with Pakistan that extended beyond kinetic issues, the diplomatic piece was and remains fluid, messy, and hard. As the war wore on, patience and imagination dried up. AfPak became shorthand for CT (counterterrorism) -- far too constricted a prism for the colors and complexities of the region.
The Obama administration eventually recognized the limits of the AfPak moniker itself; Islamabad made sure of it. Like Delhi, it had its own gripes about being lumped with its neighbor. Little wonder then that regional integration in South Asia is among the lowest in the world. Yet even as the phrase largely vanished from official public statements, it continued to periodically surface and, importantly, cast a shadow in Washington -- until now.
As the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan winds down by the end of 2014, AfPak is undergoing its own retrograde. The office that embodies the term, SRAP, will need to assess not whether but how and when to reintegrate within the U.S. State Department's Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.
Think tanks in Washington are also rebooting their South Asia programs. Some are doing so in the pre-AfPak mold, others with variation. The Brookings Institution, for example, now has a stand-alone India program, focusing on politics and economics, as much as foreign policy -- kaleidoscope eyes on a potential Asian power. Along with and related to the shifting geopolitical winds are the interests of funders who share Washington's AfPak fatigue. Their weariness, however, cannot match that in the region whose "troubles" (to borrow from Northern Ireland) are likely to rage on.
Newer shorthands such as the "rebalance" or "pivot" to Asia have also provided a new prism with which to look on South Asia. A fresh crop of scholarship has arisen on how South Asia relates to the Asia-Pacific region, from the "Indo-Pacific" concept to Pakistan's role in the rebalance -- welcome efforts to think beyond traditional silos in an interconnected Asia.
The periodic reimagination of South Asia in Washington is as inevitable as it is easy to miss. We are in such a transition right now. So come next Monday, when the "South Asia Channel" pops up my Inbox, I will be fumbling a bit to figure out how all the pieces fit. So might you.
Ziad Haider is the Director of the Truman National Security Project's Asia Expert Group. He served as a White House Fellow in the U.S. Department of Justice and as a national security aide in the U.S. Senate. You can follow him on Twitter at @Asia_Hand. The views expressed are his own.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
On November 13, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its annual Afghanistan Opium Survey, which found that opium cultivation reached record levels in 2013, despite a decade of attempted counter-narcotics activities by U.S. and NATO forces. It also comes just a few weeks after NATO announced it will scale down its post-2014 troop commitments to Afghanistan.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan will conclude at the end of 2014, marking the end of the largest, most expensive, and most politically contentious mission in the alliance's history. The announcement reflects NATO members' eagerness to put the Afghan saga behind them, leaving only a small vanguard of trainers and advisers in place to oversee the transition. Yet Afghanistan's rampant drug trade, now at an all-time high, threatens to upend NATO's decade of fragile progress and mixed successes.
For over a decade, U.S. and NATO policymakers have struggled with the inconvenient truth that the insurgency in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the opium poppy trade. Opium poppy plants are hardy and durable, require little water, fetch a high market price once processed into heroin, and store without rotting, making them an ideal crop for Afghanistan's inchoate economy and arid mountain climate.
When U.S.-led ISAF forces initially entered Afghanistan in October 2001, they ignored the opium poppy fields, convinced that destroying a primary income source for many Afghans wouldn't earn them any local support. ISAF forces also elicited support from local Afghan warlords to combat insurgent groups with hundreds of millions of dollars. This flooded the Afghan money market, rapidly devaluing the already weak Afghan currency and prompting Afghans to put their money into the only safe and profitable investment in the Afghan economy: opium poppy farming. By 2003, when NATO assumed control of ISAF, Afghanistan's estimated opium income was $4.8 billion, compared with $2.8 billion in foreign aid.
Many U.S. policymakers eventually acknowledged the severity of the burgeoning drug trade problem in Afghanistan, but the diagnosis proved easier than treatment. Indiscriminate eradication, ISAF's next attempted strategy, failed miserably as it significantly undermined the coalition's popularity with Afghans who had no means of income outside opium poppy farming. Moreover, NATO forces could only eradicate the opium poppy fields in areas they controlled. By 2008, 98% of the poppy plants were cultivated in insurgent-controlled areas, and total poppy cultivation in Afghanistan grew to the point where the drug trade's potential export value constituted nearly 25% of the country's GDP.
One of the few positive outcomes from this failed policy was a slight improvement in NATO-Russia relations, as illustrated by the NATO-Russia Council's small Counter Narcotics Training Program (which today remains one of NATO's only formal initiatives tasked with addressing Afghanistan's drug trade). However, while this program represents a modest success story in the otherwise anemic NATO-Russia relationship, it is anchored in Russia's stubborn support for full-scale eradication policies, which stems from the widespread use of Afghan opiates and heroin in Russia.
The Obama administration took stock of these failures and transitioned to a strategy of selectively eradicating poppy farms that were linked to the Taliban, while simultaneously implementing "alternative livelihood efforts" for Afghan farmers. Yet poppies remain the most profitable crop available; farmers can earn up to $203 per kilogram of harvested opium, compared with $1.25 for a kilogram of harvested rice. Additionally, many Afghans doubt whether the alternative crop subsidies that currently counterbalance these price discrepancies will outlast ISAF's 2014 mission mandate.
While the selective eradication concept was promising, NATO provided no framework for its members to coordinate targeted eradication policies across their respective sectors of command. This led to a phenomenon known as "the balloon effect" -- if NATO forces effectively countered opium poppy production in one region, production would simply increase in another region.
All the while, drug money became a vital source of funding for the insurgents. By 2013, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that Afghan insurgent groups earned over $200 million annually from the drug trade. In the words of former ISAF commander Gen. David Petraeus: "drug money has been the oxygen in the air that allows these groups to operate."
The unchecked drug trade dovetails Afghanistan's notorious and ossified corruption problems, which pose as large of a threat to Afghanistan's stability as the Taliban. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made dramatic, but ultimately disingenuous, public promises to tackle corruption. In practice, he has perpetuated corruption and the drug problem through his internal political entanglements, affiliations, and dependencies. For example, Karzai's current anti-corruption czar, Izzatullah Wasifi, was once arrested for attempting to sell $2 million worth of heroin in Las Vegas (an act that Karzai waved off as a "youthful indiscretion"). Karzai vehemently counterattacks allegations of corruption, arguing that the bigger problem in Afghanistan is the corruption in ISAF contracts with private security firms. As this blame game continues, it risks undermining already feeble public confidence in Afghanistan's fledgling democratic institutions and poisoning the roots of Afghanistan's future.
Unfortunately, the window of opportunity for NATO to fully confront Afghanistan's opium poppy trade will likely close with its 2014 drawdown, especially now that NATO's post-2014 commitment represents only a modicum of its initial plans. However, NATO can still take a few relatively low-cost steps to at least curb Afghanistan's drug trade in the short-term, as it lacks the resources for a long-term effort.
The perennial first step is admitting the problem. NATO leaders have quietly acknowledged the dangerous drug trafficking problem Afghanistan faces without offering any real solutions, lest the alliance be labeled as the party in charge of ‘fixing' the drug problem while lacking the means and will to do so. However, after 2014, Afghanistan will take responsibility for its own security. When that happens, NATO will be on the sidelines, with more political breathing room to raise awareness for and offer suggestions to the Afghan government on the opium poppy trade.
Second, NATO can increase its financial and political investments in the Counter Narcotics Training Program, which has potential, but only if the alliance can convince Russia of the pitfalls of indiscriminate eradication. Counter-narcotics units are most effective when they are stringently vetted and highly trained with expert support. Afghanistan cannot produce such units without NATO funding and support.
Third, NATO can provide helicopters to support Afghanistan's counter-narcotics efforts, as they are the only viable way for counter-narcotics units to swiftly respond to and interdict drug traffickers in a mountainous country devoid of transportation infrastructure. As the U.S. Senate Drug Caucus concluded, "there is no end game capability in Afghanistan without the appropriate number of helicopters." As a corollary to interdiction efforts, NATO should leverage its integrated command structures, intelligence sharing capabilities, and well-established intelligence infrastructure in Afghanistan to support these counter-narcotics activities.
Finally, NATO needs to conduct an honest assessment of how the opium poppy trade impacted its own counterinsurgency. A NATO Counter-Narcotics Center of Excellence, a member-initiated and independent in-house think tank, offers one mechanism to provide the post-mortem on ISAF's failed drug policies and serve as NATO's institutional memory for its Afghan mission. As European Union forefather Jean Monet famously said, "the lessons of history are doomed to be forgotten unless they are embedded in institutions."
Though NATO members are reluctant to commit to costly long-term missions in the foreseeable future, the alliance has agreed to provide a residual force of trainers and advisers to the country under the auspices of Operation Resolute Support. Yet many of the threats that NATO's stability and reconstruction initiatives aimed to eliminate still persist. And for better or worse, NATO's reputation as a viable international security alliance is inextricably linked to Afghanistan. If NATO is ever pulled into another major operation, the world will look to Afghanistan as the benchmark for its successes and shortfalls.
NATO's announcement that it is scaling back its already sparse commitments to Afghanistan after 2014 does not augur well for efforts to curb the country's prevalent drug trade and record-high opium cultivation levels. Afghanistan's fate hangs in the balance, and the opium poppy plant may prove heavy enough to tip the scale against the full weight of NATO and a nascent Afghan democracy.
Robbie Gramer staffs the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council's Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. He can be reached via email at rgramer@AtlanticCouncil.org.
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
Matt Zeller, Watches Without Time: An American Soldier in Afghanistan (Charlottesville, VA: Just World Books, 2012).
Ben Anderson, No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan (Oxford: One World Publications, 2011).
Carter Malkasian, War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
As the U.S. military reels from budgetary battles and withdraws from Afghanistan, commentators offer post-mortem after post-mortem on counter-insurgency (COIN) - an ambitious operational concept-cum-strategy hoisted on its own petard in Afghanistan. These sundry writers - including military officers, scholars, bloggers, and talking heads - have collectively sought, in the words of one blogger "to fire a few shotgun rounds into the recently buried corpse of population-centric counterinsurgency to prevent it from rising again." The specter of the Vietnam Syndrome has become flesh once more, and now the U.S. military plans, or attempts to plan, what form it will take in the decades to come. That is what the COIN debate has always been about - not Iraq or Afghanistan, but the future of the U.S. military.
It is likely that the outcome of this struggle will have a far greater impact on the United States and the world than America's strategic defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, not only is it unfortunate that these debates are not more rooted in the theatres in which these conflicts have taken place, it is very typically American. Contravening Clausewitz, the COIN debate proceeds as if war can be divorced from policy and politics; as if the organization, training, and equipping of the U.S. armed forces can take place apart from the aims to which and the places where these forces will be applied.
It is in this context that the books reviewed here all have considerable value, showcasing different perspectives of the Afghan campaign during its most crucial and resource-intensive years: the experience of an American soldier, a brave journalist covering the war for years, and a political officer coming to know his district and its history with an uncommon intimacy.
Matt Zeller's Watches Without Time provides a moving portrait of the war in Ghazni province through the author's eyes as a young lieutenant struggling to make sense of the war around him. The book is a collection of letters, reflections, and diary entries on everything from combat to working with the Afghan National Security Forces to the journey home. If anyone is wondering what it is like to go to war, read this book. It is packed with drama, excitement, fear, humor, and heartbreak. More importantly, it contains incisive observations about Afghan society from a young man trying to understand the war around him. His brief anecdotes and explanations of political corruption and the performance of the Afghan National Police are worth the price alone.
Of the many journalists who have covered the war in Afghanistan, Ben Anderson is one of the most impressive. His book, No Worse Enemy, which informed his excellent 2013 documentary with Vice, "This Is What Winning Looks Like," spans 2007 to 2011 and covers his time with the British Army and the U.S. Marine Corps as they struggle to pacify Afghanistan's deadliest province, Helmand. As a military outsider, Anderson struggles to make sense of the British and American militaries as much as he tries to understand the war in Afghanistan, thus making No Worse Enemy an interesting companion read to Zeller's insider account. Anderson is at his strongest when his narrative illustrates the complexity of telling friend from foe and right from wrong in a country where such distinctions are hopelessly blurred. He concludes that, if he were Afghan, he "certainly wouldn't be picking sides." He continues:
If someone built me a school or repaired my mosque, I would undoubtedly smile, shake their hand, maybe even make them a cup of tea or pose for a photograph. But this would be simple pragmatism. It would not mean I offered them my loyalty, much less that I had rejected the Taliban. The nature and detail of this pragmatism is entirely lost on idealistic foreign commanders.
This critique cuts to the heart of the series of assumptions that are often grouped under the misnomer of "counterinsurgency theory." If one cannot truly "clear" an area of the insurgency because the difference between a guerrilla and a disgruntled farmer is far from obvious, and one cannot effectively "hold" an area because the Afghan police are abusive and ineffective and Western forces rotate every six months (as in the case of the British and the U.S. Marines), or "build" in a "held" area because the government is alternatively venal, corrupt, and disinterested, what can Western counter-insurgents really accomplish in Afghanistan that will endure? Through their engaging portraits of the campaign in the south, Anderson and Zeller confront these contradictions head on.
But one cannot truly understand the war unless one understands Afghan history, especially on a very local level. Carter Malkasian, also in Helmand, clearly mastered these details. While all three books are excellent, War Comes to Garmser stands above the rest. The term "instant classic" long ago achieved cliché-status by being applied to middling works - much like the word "brilliant" has lost its luster by being applied to average people - but War Comes to Garmser truly became a classic as soon as it was put on store shelves. It will be one of a small number of books on Afghanistan to be published in the last 12 years that will be read for decades to come, and demands to be consulted if the United States ever again dispatches its forces to a faraway land to embroil itself in an internal war.
Malkasian's book, a history of Garmser through the prism of conflict, begins centuries ago. As someone who has also worked at the local level in Helmand, I can assure you it is no exaggeration to say that you must go this far back in order to truly understand the dynamics of the current conflict. He narrates the tribal and factional dynamics as they developed over the decades, alternately forged and fragmented through war, until his own more recent labors as a State Department political advisor working with the U.S. Marines. Malkasian - who is currently advising Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, the Commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force - is something of a folk hero among Afghan hands. He learned Pashto, achieved an unmatched understanding of his district, admirably violated State Department security strictures in order to go where he needed to go and speak with whom he needed to speak.
Gen. Larry Nicholson - who knew Malkasian from his time commanding the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Task Force Leatherneck, in Helmand - memorably said:"We need a Carter Malkasian in every district of Afghanistan." But to say that is to draw the wrong lesson from both his book and the conflict. While it is true that we cannot understand (and therefore cannot be effective) without understanding what I call "micro-conflicts" - the localized, enduring conflicts and rivalries driving politics within the Afghan government and the larger insurgency - and that Malkasian understood them as deeply as any outsider could, this level of understanding alone could not illuminate the nature of the Afghan campaign.
This campaign, as Anderson vividly depicts, rests its "success" on empowering a government and security forces that behave monstrously and feed the problems they are funded to defeat. Which brings me back to my main argument: when a military campaign is so disconnected from politics that it cannot succeed without exacerbating the true political problem - in this case the Afghan government - it matters not how many Carter Malkasians we have or how "good" our military becomes at counterinsurgency.
Ryan Evans is the assistant director of the Center for National Interest in Washington, DC. He is the editor-in-chief of the web magazine War on the Rocks. In 2010-2011, he worked as a social scientist on a human terrain team in central Helmand province. You can follow him on Twitter @EvansRyan202.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
No country aside from Afghanistan has more to lose than Pakistan from the coming departure of international forces. All post-2014 scenarios seem dark for Pakistan should the challenged Afghan state begin to unravel. In a protracted civil war, a reluctant Pakistan stands a good chance of being drawn into the conflict along with other regional powers. Taliban gains leading to a radical Islamic regime in all or most of Afghanistan, while once welcomed by Pakistan, may now result in empowering Pakistan's own militant extremists. Intensified fighting across the border is certain to push millions of new refugees into a Pakistan unprepared and unwilling to absorb them. Prospects that a successfully negotiated political agreement might some time soon avert these outcomes seem dim.
And yet, Pakistan does have one policy option that can result in a brighter scenario for itself and its Afghan neighbor. This opportunity has, in fact, been available throughout the course of the last 12 years, but it requires a strategic reassessment by Pakistan of its long-term national security interests, recognizing that they are best served when there is a stable, peaceful, prospering and, yes, independent Afghanistan. While Pakistan officially endorses this vision, its policies regularly undermine its achievement, above all by giving sanctuary and sustenance to Afghan insurgents. Instead, Pakistan should fully embrace efforts that improve prospects for the emergence of a moderate, economically improving, and accountably-governed Afghanistan. As University of Peshawar professor Ijza Khan advises, rather than pursuing a strategy focused on ensuring a friendly regime in Kabul, Pakistan should strive to win the friendship of the Afghan state and its people.
Convincing Afghans of Pakistan's good intentions will not be easy. Almost regardless of their political disposition, Afghans view their neighbor as overbearing and covetous, blaming it for much of the country's problems. Building trust is bound to be a slow process. Yet Pakistan is not without the means with which to allay Afghan suspicions. An economically-strapped Pakistani government cannot offer the kind of financial assistance that the West and Japan provide Afghanistan, or even match India's development aid portfolio. But Pakistan has advantages that come with geographical proximity, overlapping cultural and ethnic affinities, and established economic ties. It also has a relative abundance of human capital available with which to help strengthen the Afghan state.
To begin, Pakistan could agree to open the long denied trans-country routes that block India's trade with Afghanistan. Afghanistan's critical dependence on road links to the port of Karachi could be better secured and border impediments removed. Existing training programs in Pakistan for Afghan civil servants could be greatly expanded. Pakistan can do more to allay Afghans' beliefs that it is obstructing a peace deal with the Taliban and assure them that it has no plans to divide Afghan territory ethnically. Pakistan can also help secure Afghan presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled in 2014 and 2015, respectively, by using its not inconsiderable influence to limit Taliban interference. It could also place additional troops at the border to reduce infiltration, much as it did during elections in 2004 and 2005. Although largely symbolic, Pakistan might even propose a non-aggression pact. But all these trust-building actions would pale against a decision by Pakistan to withdraw its patronage of the Afghan Taliban. Simply put, it must be willing to evict, if not arrest, Afghan Taliban fighters and their leaders on its soil.
Admittedly this will be hard. It will incur risks for Pakistan, particularly inviting a backlash not just from Afghan Taliban in the country, but also from their Pakistani allies. Afghans may be driven into open alliance with Pakistani insurgents and other extremist groups against the state. Yet this is a fight that Pakistan must eventually undertake. It cannot continue trying to differentiate between good and bad militants and expect the country's endemic violence to end. Delay has only made the task more difficult. If there is to be a reckoning, Pakistan may find that dismantling the Afghan Taliban offers a less difficult first step toward eliminating all of the militant groups that are currently or will inevitably be challenging the Pakistani state.
Pakistan has much to gain from a strategic reappraisal. Aside from possibly avoiding an Afghan civil war and its consequences, Pakistan could expect to enlist Afghan efforts to deny Pakistan's Taliban insurgents the safe haven they have found across the border. Pakistan could feel confident that the Baloch rebellion is not being fueled from the Afghan side of the border and that India does not overplay its hand once NATO forces leave. More broadly, Pakistan should have less reason to fear India's role in Afghanistan. A stabilized, secure Afghanistan would find it unnecessary to look to India to provide a counterweight to Pakistan or worry Pakistan by maintaining an oversized army.
Building confidence between the two countries could also perhaps permanently defuse their long-standing dispute over the Durand Line that separates them. With improved security in Afghanistan, new life could be breathed into plans to construct a gas pipeline from the fields in Turkmenistan. A growing Afghan economy would open up new markets for Pakistani goods and services and improve opportunities for investment. And Pakistan's dreams of using Afghanistan as a road bridge to Central Asia to extend its commerce and political influence might finally become a reality.
Without reciprocating Afghan policies, friendly overtures by Pakistan cannot be sustained. But it is Pakistan's initiatives that will drive any embrace. More than any external power, its actions will determine whether the present Afghan state can succeed against the current odds. And through assisting its struggling neighbor, Pakistan may help secure its own future.
Marvin G. Weinbaum is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is a scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute. He served as an analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research from 1999 to 2003.
Assertions and opinions in this editorial are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.
Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made his first official visit to the United States since being elected by a strong majority to serve his third term in office. The word from the White House is that the bilateral relationship is back on track, and the Prime Minister's public address supports that conclusion. While Sharif continued to condemn U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions -- remarks that may have prompted the leak to the Washington Post of documents implicating at least some Pakistan government officials in secretly endorsing the program -- he also expressed a desire for cooperation on critical issues such as increased trade and foreign investment in Pakistan, cooperation with India, and a willingness to pursue difficult reforms outlined in the recent loan package from the International Monetary Fund. In exchange for the Prime Minister's willingness to play nice, the United States government released $1.6 billion in military assistance to Pakistan that had been held up since 2011.
A renewal of military aid will, for the time being, shore up the relations between Washington and Islamabad. But military aid will not help Pakistan deal with the daunting development challenges it faces: the loss of its territorial integrity to the Taliban and other groups; the rise of sectarian conflict; high youth unemployment; ongoing power blackouts; underfunded health and schooling services; potentially catastrophic water problems and agricultural losses to soil salinization; and a hopelessly low level of tax revenue for the state to address these challenges.
So what about economic development aid, which continued to flow over the last two years as envisioned in the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (better known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill)? Washington reported real progress in the aid program toward achieving important medium term goals, but U.S. economic aid, even at 10 times the current levels, cannot serve as a substitute for the decisions and political will the civilian government of Pakistan needs to provide -- whether increasing energy tariffs to attract desperately needed investment in the power sector, or raising and collecting taxes on the country's small but powerful elite.
One point of economic aid is to enable the United States to work alongside Pakistan's civilian government in tackling its considerable challenges, working as a partner and building the sense of shared understanding and trust that can spill over into cooperation on more sensitive security and anti-terrorism issues. That is the vision Richard Holbrooke, the first Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan had, and we believe it is a vision that can still animate the U.S. approach.
Though the current aid program is handicapped by U.S. government mandates to track money instead of results, red tape, security constraints on U.S. staff working in Pakistan, and the difficulty of shifting management of programs from U.S. contractors to local Pakistani institutions, it can be fixed. At least equally, if not more, important, the United States has other tools in its development toolbox beyond traditional aid. These include mechanisms that facilitate trade, such as providing duty-free, quota-free access to U.S. markets, and unleashing the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to encourage private investment in the country's small and medium-sized enterprise sector and its beleaguered energy sector.
U.S. officials are already deploying some of these tools, but to ensure they constitute a coherent development program rather than a haphazard set of projects, we recommend that the State Department and the government of Pakistan establish a formalized Development Dialogue. This should be a discrete component of the Strategic Dialogue Secretary of State John Kerry has agreed to host by March 2014. Discussions could focus on ways to forge a long-term partnership between Pakistan's civilian government and the U.S. government, including but going well beyond traditional aid.
To use the marriage metaphor often invoked to describe the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, a Development Dialogue could help build the resilience that any healthy marriage needs to withstand life's trials and tribulations. It could bolster the countries' vows to work together in good times and in bad by insulating the development agenda from often competing security and diplomatic objectives. And if successful, it could lead to more times of health and fewer times of sickness -- both for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and the people of Pakistan.
Nancy Birdsall is the founding president of the Center for Global Development. From 1993 to 1998, she was executive vice president of the Inter-American Development Bank and previously served 14 years in research, policy, and management positions, including director of the Policy Research Department, at the World Bank.
Alexis Sowa is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development focused on the organization's ongoing work on Pakistan and contributing to the Oil-to-Cash initiative. She has worked as a governance advisor in Liberia with the Africa Governance Initiative and as a program and policy manager at Malaria No More UK where she identified, developed, and managed investments in sub-Saharan Africa.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
Managing Afghanistan's nascent industrial base will be critical as the nation attempts to build a modern economy that is increasingly less dependent on foreign aid. Today, there is great room for optimism as Afghanistan moves toward the post-transition period. Despite having a GDP that was made up almost entirely of outside aid in 2011 and 2012, certain industries -- including the Afghan telecommunications, agricultural, and mining sectors -- have begun to demonstrate remarkable growth and potential, leading to the vital stability needed for a viable, diversified marketplace.
Experts estimate that Afghanistan holds deposits of $1 trillion to $3 trillion of oil, gas, gold, copper, iron ore, and other natural resources. Of this subset, perhaps the most intriguing is the country's marble industry, which is further along in its exploitation than other areas, and whose emergence is an instructive success story on seeding enterprise in the war zone. As commodity cycles turn, prices increase, and large-scale resource extraction projects scale up, Afghanistan is focusing on the industry as an anchor for the development of its resource corridor. According to the Afghanistan Investment and Support Agency, the Afghan marble industry has expanded by 60 percent since 2008, a growth that has positives effects on other industries as well.
Economic considerations aside, Afghanistan's post-2014 future will be heavily tied to its security situation. In geostrategic hot spots around the world, counterinsurgency experts have long argued that adequate development and economic prosperity follow security. But if there is a successful strategy that upends this conventional wisdom, it may lie in western Afghanistan, where the development of the nation's multi-billion dollar mining industry is growing the economy and consequently forcing improvements in the security sector. In essence, as businesses have begun to flourish, despite the lack of fully settled security, Afghans have moved swiftly against nefarious actors to ensure that they do not impact the flow of marble and revenue generation.
Ultimately, an economy is built out through trade, not aid, as growth and new jobs are the most sustainable way to raise living standards. With increasing exports across Europe and Asia, the Afghan marble sector already earns at least $15 million per year and remains the top marble producer in the region. If present maturation trends hold, the marble sector could generate nearly $700 million in exports by 2018.
Over the last five years, other sectors have also demonstrated robust growth: the Afghan media, health, and agriculture sectors (dry fruits and seeds, which surpassed carpets as Afghanistan's primary export) have all shown impressive development. However, these areas rely to a significant extent on the funds available from foreign aid, and subsequently have not generated sizable, sustainable profits that maximize the sectors' full potential. Conversely, certain large-scale mining activities have turned a profit relatively quickly and have continued to expand at a dynamic rate, especially as innovative Afghan companies increasingly access a burgeoning global market for the nation's rare, world-class materials.
Since 2008, Afghans have sharply focused on the country's export capacity to meet the rise in international demand for high-end stone. Since its introduction to the global market, Afghan white stone, a marble noted for its unusually rich quality and rainbow color, has been actively sought by some of the world's wealthiest buyers -- industry insiders -- who are engaged in a continuous price war for the most expensive marble products. By increasing its share in this highly competitive market, Afghanistan is already carving out broader regional economic relevance, with the World Bank concluding that "in a scenario with higher investment in mining development, growth could increase to 6.9 per cent on average until 2025, and fiscal revenues could reach 2-4 percent of GDP in the early 2020s, depending on the number and scale of the exploited mines and the pace of their development." The potential earnings from the mining trade are therefore poised to become an important source of fiscal revenue, as well as a vehicle for creating jobs, developing infrastructure, and ensuring national economic growth. The key remains strategic management and investment.
The largest marble producer in Afghanistan, Equality Capital Management (ECM), founded in 2006 by Nasim and Adam Doost, has implemented a successful framework for foreign direct investment and economic growth. In Herat province, located in western Afghanistan, ECM has secured multi-million dollar commitments from leading international firms by offering an exclusive right to its top-grade marble, in exchange for modern production machinery, mining refinement technology, and technical support from geology and engineering experts. As a result of this business model and efficient management, ECM has helped bring the Afghan mining sector in line with international standards, while also using public-private partnerships to improve infrastructure, power reliability, and access to deepwater ports that are crucial to making the industry competitive.
The effects of these improvements have been clear. Since ECM's introduction of Afghan marble to some of the world's top stone importers in 2008, it has become a highly sought commodity -- a global-luxury good competing with Carrara marble, an Italian stone generally recognized as one of the finest in the world. Consequently, ECM's current portfolio boasts foreign buyers from a vast lineup of nations, including China, India, Italy, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates, among others. Afghan stone is increasingly used in prestigious construction projects across the world, such as the building of China's St. Regis Shenzhen, a premier five-star international hotel, and in the new headquarters of Margraf Industria Marmi Vicentini, a century-old firm and the fourth largest marble exporter in the world with ties to some of the world's most distinguished architecture.
Because not all foreign companies are keen to enter an unproven market in a war zone, Afghan leadership in cultivating joint ventures to share risks and costs in regions fraught with danger has been critical to the industry's growth. The combination of security operations and economic growth sprouting from these marble-for-security deals, in which Afghan business owners provide marble to the Afghan government in exchange for hard security guarantees, has created challenges for the insurgency. Pursuing this course, "the Afghan National Army has taken the lead and a more active approach to secur[ing] the marble mines, checkpoints, and transit routes over the last six months," notes a senior U.S. military official of Regional Command West. As a result of such deals, in order to guard the industry's growth, the Ministry of Interior and the Afghan National Security Forces have become more responsive, reinstating the flow of commerce hindered by illicit activity and constraining the insurgency in key zones.
Given the improved security, the growth of the marble industry has created an impressive spillover effect. As noted by Mansour Rahimi, the head of the Herat Marble Union, the number of Afghan-run small-to-medium-size marble enterprises in Herat province alone has increased from four to over 40, and the number of quarries contracted with the government has grown from two to 12, a rate that Adam Doost predicts "will generate 40,000 jobs ...over the next five years in this region." In fact, many of the relatively smaller businesses working beside ECM recently established the Marble Union to help capitalize on opportunities and solve challenges facing the industry due to this growth.
The size and sophistication of the mining industry, and the direct work of Afghans themselves as owners, have made the Herat marble industry a model for Afghan businesses in other regions and industries, such as barite, gold, limestone, lithium, tin, and even oil and gas. Acknowledging this influence, a group of Lashkar Gah onyx dealers from Helmand province in southern Afghanistan recently toured several Herat manufacturing facilities and met with the Doost brothers and Marble Union leaders to learn from their successes. The timing of these study tours is crucial, as the Helmand business leaders are currently introducing their highly prized onyx to the global market for the first time. Afghans' direct participation in these industries is absolutely essential for long-lasting economic growth and stabilization in the region.
Despite this success, fundamental obstacles to developing the mining sector remain. Procuring stable investment and credit facilities for businesses, repairing and updating antiquated technology and infrastructure, and improving the structure and application of mining laws all remain significant challenges. To be sure, no "one-size-fits-all" solution can guide business development and the next generation of entrepreneurs who are leading the way in mining and other growth enterprises in Afghanistan. Businesses throughout the nation need more robust trade opportunities and strong partnerships with foreign investors, since the marble sector is capital intensive and driven by a technological skill base, one which is still in its relative infancy in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, drawing on the Afghan marble industry leaders' blueprint for facilitating foreign direct investment and modern technology has already provided practical steps for up-and-coming Afghan business leaders to take as they seek to achieve transformative results.
In essence, understanding why the marble-for-security model works is especially relevant to the economics implicit in counterinsurgency operations across Afghanistan and other strategic zones. Actively seeking ways to identify, study, and apply the lessons learned from the reality of the war zone -- specifically how economics are incentivizing Afghan leaders to turn against the insurgency and drive hard security and stability guarantees -- can effectively help improve growth and stabilization successes across multiple industries throughout Afghanistan for decades to come.
Melissa L. Skorka is a Counterinsurgency Advisor for the Commanding General's Advisory and Assistance Team in Afghanistan.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
Dear Mr. President:
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is meeting with you on Wednesday with high expectations. He is a pragmatic business-oriented politician with a powerful electoral base who has shown magnanimity and deftness in allowing opposition parties to form governments in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces, and he backed the election of a nationalist Baloch as the chief minister in Baluchistan. While this could be seen as a policy of sharing the misery of trying to govern an ungovernable Pakistan, it could also be an attempt to work within a fractured political system. Regardless, he represents a chance to provide continuity for civilian governance in Pakistan and to build a relationship that goes beyond our immediate need to exit Afghanistan gracefully.
On Afghanistan, his advisors, both civil and military, will have told him that we need them badly; Pakistan tends to overestimate its leverage on such security issues. You will have likely been told by many yourself that we can get the Pakistanis to yield, if only we tighten the screws on them -- militarily via our aid program and the use of drone strikes, and economically via threats to withhold assistance directly or from international financial institutions.
We already have some credit on the latter. Pakistan has a new loan package with the International Monetary Fund, that we supported, though it remains to be seen if they will be able to deliver on the tough policy shifts they have to make to sustain the loan. This type of international financial support is an easier way for us to help or squeeze Pakistan without bringing Congress into the game.
As for the game itself, we can play the short game, focusing primarily on Afghanistan. In that case, making smoother payments from the Coalition Support Fund, and replacing Pakistan's heavily-used military materiel will help. Closer collaboration in helping them target their local Taliban fighters would also win points and cooperation.
Or, we could go for the long game and broaden our influence beyond the central government to the business community and the people of Pakistan. Large numbers of Pakistanis hate the United States because they have seen us support unpopular leaders, both civil and military, in the past. Sharif, a popular and business-oriented leader, appears to have the right instincts on a number of issues. He favors trade over aid, and he favors open borders with his neighbors. We could directly assist him by lowering the tariff rates on Pakistani imports, especially those on textiles -- at least to the level of European countries which have already given Pakistan that concession. Call it a level-playing field. At worst, you will lose South Carolina. But we will bring the emerging and powerful Pakistani business community to our side. In turn, it will help Sharif make the case domestically for open trade with India. You could also use quiet diplomacy with India to help it work things out with Pakistan on trade and border issues while waiting for the next Indian elections in spring 2014.
We also have a substantial proportion of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman funds that have not yet been disbursed and though that aid program ends next year, you could extend it for another two years without seeking additional monies and thus use the full $7.5 billion that has been allocated. Though this is not a huge amount when compared with Pakistan's needs, the symbolic value would be substantial.
Currently, Sharif is personally running the foreign, commerce, and defense ministries -- a tall order for any prime minister. But it allows us to deal with him on a wide range of issues at the highest level. His energy ministers are already working with our key officials and even intelligence collaboration exists, regardless of the underlying mistrust. If we can avoid looking for an obvious quid pro quo in the short run, we may be able to help the Pakistanis also play the long game.
In short, we may be able to do business with Sharif. Recall that he did help President George H. W. Bush with Somalia in the early 1990s.
You will have only a short time with him on Wednesday. Instead of having him recite his grievances, it might be better to have him define a path for the future that helps both countries, and offer to help strengthen his position at home as a result. He will get that. You do not get to be prime minister of Pakistan for a record third time without such smarts. Trust him. But tell him you will verify his moves once he gets home.
Shuja Nawaz is the Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., and is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Afghanistan has come a long way since the United States and its allies arrived in the country 12 years ago. Daunting challenges remain, but it is a far cry from the failed state and terrorist hideout it was in 2001. Doom-and-gloom press prognostications of an inevitable post-2014 return to Taliban tyranny do not reflect the realities on the ground. The fact is that Afghanistan has a solid chance of becoming significantly more stable, productive, and self-sustaining. This outcome, however, depends upon the will of the United States, its partners, and the leaders Afghans choose in next April's presidential elections.
As political leaders in Washington wrestle with budget issues in the coming months, they should resist the temptation to slash funding for Afghanistan. Outbursts from an outgoing President Hamid Karzai should not obscure larger U.S. interests in Afghanistan and the region. Abandoning Afghanistan now would squander the significant investments and sacrifices the United States and its partners have made there, including the sacrifices still borne by many U.S. service members and their families. The scale of the investments needed over the next few years pale in comparison with the magnitude of the earlier ones, which have enabled the Afghan government and its police and military forces to degrade the Taliban-led insurgency and build the country's institutions and economy.
Although skepticism exists in Congress and even parts of the administration, most officials who have worked on Afghanistan, regardless of their political leanings, tend to have far more confidence in the future of the country. That's why I and many other former officials and diplomats and civil society leaders have come together to support a new initiative - the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to preserving and protecting the progress made by the Afghan people since 2001.
Underlying our confidence is an appreciation of how much Afghanistan has changed for the better. Living standards have improved dramatically across most of the country. Significant advances have taken place in agriculture and healthcare. An unprecedented 8.2 million children and young people, four million of them young women and girls, are now in school in Afghanistan, and 180,000 of them are in university classes. Women in Afghanistan, who suffered unspeakable oppression under the Taliban, have become an increasingly significant voice in Afghan society, calling for minority rights, criticizing corruption, and demanding the rule of law. Fresh, young leaders with passion, commitment, resilience, and incredible talent are already emerging. These twenty- and thirty-somethings are serving in the private sector, non-governmental organizations, government, academia, and many other professions. Though they are Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and often refugees who grew up abroad, they see themselves first and foremost as Afghans. The recent victories of the Afghan soccer and cricket teams, which were celebrated across all ethnic lines and throughout the country, highlighted this new reality.
The Taliban insurgency will not overrun Afghanistan's central government so long as the United States and its partners continue to support the Afghan government and its military and security forces as planned. Some 80 percent of the population is now largely protected from Taliban violence, which has increasingly been confined to the country's more remote regions. The major cities and transportation routes are now secured by the Afghan security forces rather than by foreign troops.
Why surrender this success in the area of security -- the sine qua non for success in every other aspect of communal life?
The next generation of Afghan leaders offers a compelling vision and opportunity for the country's future: Afghanistan can combat corruption and hold increasingly free and fair elections -- undertaken within a legal framework and overseen by independent electoral watchdogs -- that produce officials and legislators acceptable to the country's voters. It can become a country where the political rights of women are fully respected. It can undertake an inclusive peace process that addresses the root causes of conflict. And it can continue to develop its economy, trade, and regional ties.
True, these would be immense achievements for any poor, remote, war-torn country, but this vision is not beyond the reach of Afghanistan, with modest international support. Given all that we have achieved together and all that we have sacrificed together, it would be worse than foolhardy to short change this future now. It would be tragic.
Michèle Flournoy, a former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, co-chairs the Center for a New American Security's board of directors; she is also a signatory to the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to preserving and protecting the progress made by the Afghan people since 2001.
KIM JAE-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's memories of Washington cannot be pretty. He was last in town in July 1999, when he met then-President Bill Clinton to discuss the escalation of tensions amongst India and Pakistan in the Kargil district of Kashmir, an area long disputed between the two neighbors. Four months later, Sharif was out of a job.
Sharif's own Chief of Army Staff, Pervez Musharraf, initiated the coup that led to his ouster after Sharif pulled troops out of Kargil -- at Clinton's urging -- to avoid any further escalation. His entrée into the "military's space" by initiating these troop withdrawals ultimately led to his downfall.
This time around, Sharif is in a much stronger position politically. His party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, dominates the National Assembly as a result of its landslide victory in the May elections earlier this year. The military, a perpetual thorn in the side of the civilian government, is showing no visible signs of getting in Sharif's way for the time being. The government is about to receive a multi-billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund to breathe life back into the country's economy. Sharif's economic team seems to be making all the right noises on other aspects of economic reform, mainly in the privatization of state-owned steel mills and railways, as well as improvements in the energy sector.
This week, Sharif is in Washington, where he will meet President Barack Obama on Wednesday for an official visit at the White House. Meeting with Obama is typically a sign of strength for foreign leaders back home, but in Pakistan, the American president is so unpopular that Sharif wins no domestic brownie points for the meeting. In fact, it could hurt Sharif or be used against him. When he returns to Pakistan, any dramatic moves on security issues could be construed as a response to American pressure, real or not.
Furthermore, the strengths of Sharif's government are irrelevant under the current circumstances, especially on the issues the United States cares about the most. While his engagements with the American business and development communities will be more positive, Sharif will face "hard messages" from Obama and other American officials that won't be as easily answered. Among many issues, high on the White House's agenda will be the drawdown in Afghanistan, the lingering al-Qaeda threat in Pakistan, the recent uptick in tensions with India, and everlasting concerns about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. High on Pakistan's agenda will be pushing for an end to CIA drone strikes, asking for continued assistance in fighting the Pakistani Taliban, and seeking more information on NATO's plans for withdrawing from Afghanistan.
If it sounds like nothing's changed, that's because it hasn't. A combination of patronage, pressure, and mixed messages has always defined U.S.-Pakistan relations. In December 1998, when Sharif traveled to Washington at Clinton's invitation, security concerns at the time centered on India and nonproliferation. When President Asif Ali Zardari was in Washington in January 2011 for the memorial service of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Amb. Richard C. Holbrooke, he was lucky Obama even met with him. Some American policy advisors at the time seriously questioned Pakistan's willingness to disrupt the Taliban, viewing the country's "double game" with the militants as reason enough to deny Zardari an audience with Obama.
While military ruler-turned-president Pervez Musharraf received a much warmer reception in Washington during his 2006 trip, he too faced the music when dealing with American officials on Pakistan's relations with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and its nuclear weapons program. Another military ruler, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, probably enjoyed the highest level of American patronage in the history of Pakistani leaders -- the result of his covert cooperation with the United States in defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan. But during his 1980 visit to Washington, even Zia faced pressure from the Carter administration to give up Islamabad's secretly expanding nuclear program.
Given the trends, it is apparent that Sharif will have the same kind of trip every other Pakistani leader to the United States has had: beset with unrealistic expectations in Washington and Islamabad; a scramble for "deliverables" identifying progress in the relationship; disappointment that the White House did not grant the Pakistanis the coveted "state visit;" mixed messages on both sides about how "hard" and "soft" the talking points were; and an underlying cynicism questioning the existence of the "unholy alliance" between the two countries. In all fairness, the same circumstances apply when American officials travel to Pakistan.
It is easy to get excited at the prospect of high-level engagements; such visits offer a potential pivot moment for bilateral relationships going through difficult times. We all know how badly the United States and Pakistan need a pivot, but the two countries may have already moved beyond that point. The visit occurs at a time when the countries have initiated a period of more subdued, private, and pragmatic engagement. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to Pakistan in August was an initial attempt to "open a new chapter" in the relationship. The recent release of $1.6 billion in military and economic aid was possible because "ties have improved enough to allow the money to flow again." And while the recent decreased frequency of drone strikes does not appear to be coordinated, it probably doesn't hurt.
This new tone and approach can be helped along by strong diplomatic ties at the highest levels of government -- a condition that has been lacking in both U.S. and Pakistani policymaking circles for several years. Sharif's visit to Washington this week gives both him and Obama an opportunity to formally begin a professional relationship that could do just that.
But as in all things U.S. and Pakistan, a heavy dose of reality is recommended. The two countries face many potential pitfalls as they look towards 2014 when NATO departs Afghanistan, and high-level diplomacy alone cannot ensure that Pakistan and the United States successfully avoid them. Coordination between American and Pakistani militaries, intelligence services, diplomats, and development specialists will also be in demand; engagement on many of these fronts is still recovering from the conflicts of the past two years, whether it be the Osama bin Laden raid, the Raymond Davis incident, or the cross-border incident at Salala. At the least, the Sharif-Obama discussion will offer a taste of what challenges lay ahead and one way to engage on them.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is Senior Advisor to Dean Vali R. Nasr at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies and is a Senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
This project was made possible by support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Name: Wakil Abdul Rahim
The mountainsides that surround Kabul are covered with squatter houses, the homes of people have claimed the land by building on it. They're undeterred by the steep grade; from below, many homes appear to be affixed to nearly vertical mountain faces. Many of the highest houses are inaccessible by car, but to get close you take narrow roads quickly, speeding so you don't stall or lose traction. The steeper and wilder the terrain, the faster you go.
We arrive at the home of Wakil Abdul Rahim and find him welcoming, but formal and severe. He quickly reveals himself to be the most pessimistic person I've spoken to about the withdrawal of U.S. and international forces, though he is also animated by a hatred for the people in power. It's as if he lives up here simply because it's as far away from them as he can get. He ushers us into a living room, serves us juice and cookies, and begins to explain what the international presence has looked like from all the way up here.
The following are the words of Wakil Abdul Rahim, as told to Jeffrey E. Stern and translated by Farima Abrar.
The government hasn't done anything for us up here on the mountains.
I moved up here forty years ago, and back then, there were only four or five houses here. From the bottom of the mountain to up here, there were no houses. But after we were here for a while, slowly people started building more and more.
I could buy a house anywhere in Kabul, but I liked the view up here. But not all people who are living on the mountain are rich people, they're poor people who cannot afford houses down in Kabul. People who are living here on the hills are those who fled the rural areas, places like Panjsher, because those areas were hit by violence, in fighting between the Soviet troops and mujaheddin.
People came to Kabul and left everything behind, so they couldn't afford living in flat areas. They started building huts on the mountains. At night they would build, but during the day, the huts were destroyed by the government because building houses in that area was illegal. So they would put their women and children inside the house so that the government wouldn't destroy them. And sometimes they would build and work on their houses during the day, and then at night, they would sit on top of the roof so that no one else would come and take the land, or destroy the house. They would sit all night on the construction.
I didn't buy this land, but I became the owner because whoever builds a house owns the land. All the mountains are the same that way. Now our government does not have the power to come and tell us anything. Why would they? They themselves came and took so much land! They're all corrupt, so what could they say to us when the government are the worst land grabbers of all?
It's different here than in the U.S. or in Germany, because there, the houses up high are more expensive than the houses down below. But here, most people do not really want to live on the mountains. The facilities on the mountains are very little. It's far from the city, and we have nothing, we didn't even have water. Whatever we need, we have to walk all the way down. Everyone used to go to collect water from the bottom of the mountain, carrying the water on sticks with buckets on each side. And our women -- you would see 50 or 60 women walking up the mountain carrying water on their heads.
Now at least we have water, but not because of the government; the government did not do anything. There is a company that came and collected from each house 20,000 Afghani (approximately $360) and then they put pipes in. But they made so much money off of us, because now there are so many houses up here, and the company took money from each of us before they brought us water. And recently we got electricity. Not all the time, but sometimes we have it.
I used to have cows and sheep and horses up here too. Only recently I sent them back to Panjshir. We used to get grass and feed for them from down below. But now it's costly to get grass and feed for them, so I was not able to keep them here. Four or five years ago, it was cheap. But because of insecurity -- Talibs are attacking on one side, the government itself is like a robber on one side, and the conflict between Pakistan and Afghanistan is on one side -- it became more expensive. Before Karzai came, things were cheaper.
Our government is weak; these problems have nothing to do with Americans. Americans helped us, Germans also helped us, but all the benefits went to Karzai. It's not your problem as Americans, or Germans, or everyone else, it's our own government's problems. If you travel to Shamali in the evening, there will be robbers and people who attack you, it's not secure at all.
I don't see any change, the international presence didn't impact our lives, their money went to the pockets of the thieves like Ustad Sayyaf, Vice President Khalili, General Fahim.
Any high-rise building you see down there, it belongs to those corrupt people. Even the changes that you see up here on the hills, they are just for individuals who are linked with someone in the government. The people who go at 9am to their office and by 1pm they will be in their house relaxing, they do nothing for the country. These people don't work for the betterment of our country, they just work for themselves.
I challenge you that the next time you come to Afghanistan, see what the situation will be. It will not be the same. The situation will be bad, and once the international forces leave, it will be just like it was in the past. Next year, I'm thinking of leaving Afghanistan. In one year, Afghanistan will be like the 1990s.
I think Karzai himself is like Taliban. I think he is supporting them. After the international community leaves Afghanistan, I think Karzai will give our country to Taliban people. He will divide our country into two parts, Pashtuns and Tajiks, and everyone else. The places where Pashtuns live, those areas will be Talib area.
One hundred percent I'm sure that in our future, the situation will be worse than what we had in the past. The suicide bombers, every day we can see the explosions. These things make us think that our life in the future won't be better than the past. Because the government can't do anything. And the only reason now we have a better life is because international forces are here. At least our government during Russian times, and Taliban times, was stronger. In these periods of conflict, the thing that worried me was a lot of people escaping to other countries, or other parts of this country. That's how you know how tense people are: people moving because they think the situation will get worse. And I'm seeing people leaving again.
Edited by Jeffrey E. Stern.
Jeffrey E. Stern -- www.JeffreyEstern.com -- is a writer and development worker whose reporting from Afghanistan, Kashmir, and elsewhere has appeared in Esquire, Time, newsweek.com/The Daily Beast, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Jeffrey E. Stern/Author Photo
This project was made possible by support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Narges, who asked to only use her nickname, is soft-spoken and always colorfully dressed, usually opting for rich, dark fabrics. Her affect is, at first glance, demure, almost passive. But it belies a fearlessness and a clever wit, both of which she deploys constantly as an ardent defender of women's rights who says she thinks her country has it all wrong, and who has maintained and defended this view, though there is little support for it even within her own family.
Narges speaks slowly and carefully in English, and in her native language with an Iranian accent (which she believes is proper and her friends poke fun at as haughty), but she takes her words seriously and believes the message she has is worth delivering with precision. Besides, her accent is the result of two decades spent in Iran and she doesn't see the use in spending much energy trying to change it.
The following are the words of Narges, as told to Jeffrey E. Stern.
My mother always told me a story about her life, that they were afraid to express their religion because they were Shia and their neighbors were Sunni, and Shia people were a minority in Herat and in most of the provinces of Afghanistan.
So why did they choose to go to Iran? Because the government was, is, Shia, and they thought: "If we go to Iran, we won't have any problem. They will understand us, they will treat us as human!" But what they thought about Iran was totally wrong. We faced so many limitations because we were always seen as Afghan. For example, for education, that's the reason I left Iran and left my family, because I wasn't allowed to go to university. So I had a big interruption in my education. For five years I couldn't continue my education, because they banned us from the university, all Afghans.
And you don't know the policy of Iran. Never, you will never understand the policy of Iran. Sometimes they allow you to go to university, sometimes they don't. It's like that. Sometimes you have movement limitation -- Afghans cannot buy houses or cars, they cannot travel in other cities, only because they are Afghan, even though they have good resumes, even though they have been in Iran for 30 years.
I was born in Iran. So my first time in my own country was 2010. It was strange. I faced so many difficulties because my accent was Iranian, and Afghan people, they don't have a good attitude toward Iranian people and the Iranian government because they believe that Iran is misusing Afghans. Afghans are doing hard work in Iran, but they have no rights, they are not treated as humans. They thought I'm Iranian, so I'm like the government. They ridiculed my accent.
I was here in my country for two years and then I got a scholarship, so this is the third year that I haven't seen my family. I hope next year I can visit them. I tried to get a visa to go see them in Iran, but the Iranian government didn't give me a visa. I'm just a student! But they didn't give it to me. They said that "you will stay here, you won't go back."
I had come to Afghanistan with my aunt. She had come from Iran to visit her daughter, so I came with her; I couldn't come alone. First we came to Herat, and I found Herat very conservative. The people are conservative and women are really in trouble in Herat, to get education, to express themselves. I remember when I went to a party, and one of the girls came to me and said she has problems getting an education, because whenever she goes to school, her other relatives -- mostly men -- go to her father and say "you know, your daughter can read and write, she doesn't need anything else and she should get married." She was young, really young.
I think the presence of America in Afghanistan is necessary to help women get education. When America leaves, women will miss this opportunity. Now I have friends, I've gone to Bangladesh for education, I'm studying liberal arts, you know, we're studying humanism and women's rights. We can see we have so many shortages in women's rights, and we have to do so many things. But we don't think government will help us.
I will give an example from my friends. They had a project about combating child marriage, so they went to talk to Parliament members, but the Parliament members told them: "No, we can do it. And we should do it." And one of the Parliament members told them, "You know, these are not only my words. I have so many other friends in Parliament who agree with me."
Many parliament members are people who had been in Afghanistan's wars, they were mujahedeen, and during Taliban times, they changed their policies. Their minds are really old, and now they are in parliament. This is the problem we have. And if foreign organizations don't push them, don't put pressure on them, they won't help us.
I don't know if this news is true, but I heard about the law, the "violence against women" law. We were going to have a law against violence against women but Parliament didn't accept that. But I heard that now the American government is putting pressure on Parliament members. I heard that the American government told them that if they don't support it, if they don't confirm this law, they will cut the budget that they are giving to the Afghan army. So that's good.
This is our problem, we want to improve women's situations, improve child rights in Afghanistan, but if we don't get support from Parliament and America is leaving, how we can improve? How we can have progress?
When America leaves, I know that most of the human rights organizations will leave Afghanistan because of the security. And we need more time. We need America to stay more, so we can, you know, build what we want.
And then they can go. Laughs.
Edited by Jeffrey E. Stern.
Jeffrey E. Stern -- www.JeffreyEstern.com -- is a writer and development worker whose reporting from Afghanistan, Kashmir, and elsewhere has appeared in Esquire, Time, newsweek.com/The Daily Beast, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Jeffrey E. Stern/Author Photo
On the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the ongoing Syrian crisis dominated international headlines. Even in the United States, fewer anniversary memorial events were held to remember the victims of that tragic day. But in Afghanistan, it was a different day and a different story.
Last Wednesday, Afghans poured out by the hundreds onto streets across the country, celebrating the victory of its national football team in the 2013 South Asian Football Federation Championship. Every celebrating Afghan man, woman, and child was filled with unprecedented excitement, joy, and hope. The jubilant cheers of the crowds waving the tri-color Afghan flag were deafening, and it felt as if Afghans had been waiting for more than three decades to unleash their collective joy as a nation. Indeed, the Afghan people have been repeatedly denied any chance of celebrating what they could accomplish in peacetime after years of conflict and devastation.
Although peace has yet to prevail across Afghanistan, many Afghans recalled that Kabul's Ghazi Stadium - one of the places where they were celebrating - had been used by the Taliban as an execution ground 12 years ago. But since then, Afghanistan has made great strides in sports, actively participating in regional and international tournaments, including the Summer Olympic Games, where Rohullah Nikpai won his (and the country's) first and second bronze medals in men's Taekwondo in Beijing and London.
These dramatic successes, within such a short amount of time, have boosted the morale and ambitions of all Afghan youth, participating in all sports. They are now training even harder with a firm determination to achieve more victories for Afghanistan in upcoming tournaments. In these efforts, they have the full backing, not only of their families and friends, but their government as well.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, for example, personally followed the recent football matches in South Asia, and encouraged the national team to win for its country. For the championship match between Afghanistan and India, he sent a senior official delegation -- comprised of the ministers of education, finance, and rural rehabilitation and development, as well as Afghanistan's non-resident ambassador to Nepal -- to support the team. President Karzai also spoke by phone to the team's coach, giving them encouragement; personally received the team at the Kabul International Airport upon their return to the country; and awarded the team medals of recognition, as well as financial tokens of appreciation.
Indeed, the credit of victory goes not only to the football players, but also to all those involved with the team's effort. Afghans everywhere closely followed the championship series and appreciated the unity of effort and purpose which its football team and their victory demonstrated. As Khalid Sadat, a Kabul fruit seller, told the Washington Post: "After 30 years of war, the world thinks of Afghanistan as only having wars and violence. Today, we are showing that our young men can become world champions."
However, these visible gains on the sports field fade when Afghans look at their overall achievements during the past 12 years. It is unfortunate that domestic and international media mostly focus on sensational news, at the cost of many ongoing positive developments in every sector across Afghanistan. Such imbalanced, one-sided reporting effectively strengthens the terror campaign being waged by the Taliban, as well as their destructive propaganda, which is focused on creating an environment of fear and alarm as coalition combat forces prepare to withdraw at the end of next year.
Facts which are seldom reported by the mainstream press include:
All of this is helping the country maintain a 10% growth rate, and is creating access to employment for the first time in countless years.
But these and many other achievements are works in progress and works at risk. Therefore, it is essential for the international community to stay the course in Afghanistan. The country's gains over the past 12 years should be consolidated by implementing win-win objectives that have been outlined at the Bonn, Chicago, and Tokyo conferences, as well as through regional initiatives like the Istanbul Process. In effect, winning or losing in Afghanistan depends squarely on whether its allies and friends will actually deliver on the commitments they have made or the strategic partnership agreements they have signed.
Of course, the implications of winning are clear: a sovereign Afghanistan at peace internally and within the region can only prosper and aid economic cooperation and stability. We live in a world that is increasingly interdependent and where zero-sum designs have proven to be failures and disasters. Sincere, results-oriented cooperation is the call of all people in the region and beyond. As the recent victory of Afghanistan's national football team has shown, the Afghan people can succeed. They just need a much reinvigorated partnership with the international community to translate their shared 12-year gains into national, sustainable, institutionalized peace, pluralism, and prosperity.
Wais Ahmad Barmak is Afghanistan's Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development.
M. Ashraf Haidari is Afghanistan's deputy ambassador to India.
PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images
This project was made possible by support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Name: Omara Khan Massoudi
Omara Khan Massoudi is the Director of Afghanistan's National Museum, guarding its treasures in various positions for more than four decades, and is the reason it has been brought back to life. He is an elegant man and old-fashioned in his habits, but his gentle air belies a ferocity with which he has fought to preserve the country's archeological history, keeping the museum doors open even when there was no roof over head, no visitors in the halls, and hardly any artifacts in the display cases.
The museum has a grandeur about it, and its well-tended grounds evoke the garden city Kabul once was. But this is a recent development. The museum sits next to Tapa-e Scud -- Scud Hill -- so named for the missiles that were placed there and then left behind by the Soviets, and which helped turn the area into a strategic one for any army trying to control the city. The mujahedeen also paid special attention to this place, going up and down the main road firing all kinds of artillery, leaving roofs collapsed and walls freckled with rounds of various caliber. In this part of the city, buildings survived decades of war but barely, and the collapsed domes of the once-opulent Darulaman palace -- visible from every front-facing window in the museum -- speak powerfully to the condition of a country whose rich cultural heritage is still visible, but in skeleton form.
The following are the words of Omara Khan Massoudi, as told to Jeffrey E. Stern.
In 1973, when I graduated from Kabul University I find a job as a teacher. For four years I was teaching history and geography. When the period of revolution came in Afghanistan in 1978, it was a little bit difficult how to teach the young people. At my school, they were really intelligent students, they studied too much, but after the period of revolution, unfortunately, slowly slowly their attention to the learning was day-by-day getting weaker. Especially these young people, these young students, when they had relations with political parties, sometimes they didn't come to their classes.
That was difficult for me so I took that decision to change my job. At that time I was 24 years old, 25 years old. I come to the Ministry of Information and Culture, for four months I did my job over there, then there was a position here at the national museum. The museum staff gave me some training, day-by-day my interest was too much, I stayed here, and worked. And continued up to now.
Maybe you know that in 1987 or 1988, when the Soviets left Afghanistan, we Afghan people, we predicted that the Communist party will have to transfer the power to the mujahedeen. Everybody predicted that. Sometimes in the non-developed country, when political changes is coming, sometime there is political gap also. And I think it was the museum people's responsibility to safeguard all the artifacts which were here. In my opinion, the cultural property, the -- how to say, can I use "capital of nation"? -- these artifacts not only belongs to us. We keep these things, but really, they belong to the people all over the world.
So we thought about if the situation is getting a worse, what should we do? How to protect artifacts here?
As you know this museum is located around 10 km far away from the center of the city. So we predicted that if something happens one place -- if there was fighting -- maybe the second or third places will be safe. We shared this idea with our minister at that time, he kindly accepted, he said: "This is good idea," and he shared it with the president. He also accepted. He ordered that "any place the museum people say, I will give order to them, so they can shift the artifacts where they want."
So for safeguarding all these artifacts, we shifted to two places and decided to not give any information to anyone that we shifted these important pieces.
In the end of 1992, the situation in Kabul got worse; day-by-day the civil war started between different groups of mujahedeen. First, the artifacts that remained in this present building were looted too much. I remember, when this museum was looted, nearly 70 percent of our artifacts, they looted from this museum.
Some journalist asked about the Bactrian treasure because not a single piece of gold had come out on the black market: "Many artifacts come to the black market, but there is not a single piece of Bactrian treasure. Where is it?" We had shifted all of it, all the golden coins, golden pieces; we shifted from this museum to a vault. But we didn't give any information. "We don't know where is it," we said; "Is it here, or there?" We keep silent our mouths.
Some newspaper wrote some article about these pieces. I remember one article in Le Monde newspaper in Paris, they write that the Soviet Union forces shipped all the Bactrian treasure to Moscow. It was not true! It was wrong! But we didn't write the answer for that.
During the Taliban, at first they pay attention. Not only to the museum, but the ancient site, and historical monuments also. They protected them, they paid attention, especially they pay attention how to stop the illegal excavation. I remember, I was a member of a delegation that went to an ancient site which was, by illegal excavation, it was being looted. We got the artifacts which were over there, we got them shifted from there to here at the museum.
But unfortunately, in the beginning of 2001, the Taliban changed their mind. They destroyed all these pieces.
When international forces came, the museum was in very bad condition. It had been looted, it had took fire, believe me there was no windows, there was no roof, there was not even doors in front of the storage.
Day by day, we went on with the rebuilding; I contact the U.S. embassy, the director of planning department, and we had a meeting with the cultural attaché of U.S. embassy here in Kabul. He promised to pay around $100,000 for reconstruction of this building. I was too much happy. We started from zero point, but day-by-day, day-by-day, the reconstruction went on.
In September 2004 we had an opening ceremony, our president Karzai came and attended with some cabinet members. Then slowly we are moving, up to now, you can see this museum is open for the public always, there are tourists coming to this museum.
But, we had a lot of serious problems. The remaining pieces, all of them, needed urgent treatment, they needed cleaning. For years, by the leaking of water, they were damaged; some of them were in very bad condition. Believe me, there was nothing. There was no table, there was no desk, there was no chair for my staff to sit on. Our restoration department was too weak. This current building doesn't have some necessary things which is much important for museums all over the world. Like security signals, we don't have. Also we don't have heating system, we don't have humidity control system. We don't have fire barricade system here in this building, the lighting system is not good. The building is also too small, it's not big enough for a national museum.
We have some serious problems, but I believe we can solve them. Not very soon, but day-by-day we'll be able to solve these problems. We want to have a new building. We'll have technical x-ray machine, now it's too difficult to physically check the ladies, the women, the kids. This is not a polite way, but what to do? The situation in Afghanistan is like this.
I'm optimistic that foreign countries will take part to support this. I hope we will have these things in the future. But all these serious problems I mentioned, it will be solved in the new building.
I think usually I am a gentleman that is optimistic. We have to always think positive things. I hope this will be not a dangerous year for us, that we will have a good election, that we will have a good government, and also that foreigner countries will support Afghanistan. If this is the case, I'm optimistic. Our people must tire from this long war. Three decades war, in my opinion, it is too long. And also, it is too boring for our people. Even all the people, the ISAF and NATO people, they know that very well. I hope that they will support Afghanistan in future also. The peace will come. I'm not afraid too much that the civil war will again start. This is our responsibility, the Afghan nation is responsible. We have to be careful, we have to not go back to 1990s. What happened to this country, what happened in Kabul, this old experience, we have to not repeat it.
We have to learn some things from the history.
Edited by Jeffrey E. Stern.
Jeffrey E. Stern -- www.JeffreyEstern.com -- is a writer and development worker whose reporting from Afghanistan, Kashmir, and elsewhere has been published by The Atlantic, The New Republic, Esquire, Time, newsweek.com/The Daily Beast, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Jeffrey E Stern/Author Photo
As the United States draws down in Afghanistan, seeks to rebalance towards Asia, and remains enmeshed in the Middle East, deliberations continue in Washington on a post-2014 Pakistan policy. But such discussions tend to view Pakistan through a South and Central Asian lens, from the Indo-Pak nuclear dynamic grounded in Kashmir (once again heating up) to the more nebulous New Silk Road initiative. Few analysts are creatively assessing how Pakistan might fit into the U.S.'s rebalance to Asia given the key role of its neighbors, India and China, and the potentially stabilizing effect of including Pakistan in a wider Asian economic web. Such an analysis partly turns on a question that has drawn scant attention: exactly how does Islamabad view the rebalance?
Last month, I spoke on the evolution and elements of the rebalance policy during President Obama's first term at the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, a leading think tank in Islamabad. My remarks coincided with the leak of the Abbottabad Commission report, a Pakistani inquiry into U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in May 2011. Encouraging the audience of former senior diplomats, army officers, academics, and journalists to think beyond the terrorism-related concerns of the day, I inquired about how Pakistan perceives the U.S. rebalance to Asia and, irrespective of the U.S. posture, how does it intend to plug into the economic dynamism of the Asia-Pacific for its own benefit? Five views emerged that reflect the strain on Pakistan, and its relations with the United States, as it seeks to transcend its troubles and assess its position in the wider region.
First, to some, the rebalance is "old wine in a new bottle." The United States has always been engaged in Asia with its military bases both far and wide, so the talk of rebalancing is mere rhetoric. Moreover, Washington is incapable of acting strategically, as shown by its misguided forays into Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade, the latter of which has had dire consequences for Pakistan.
Second, others claim that the rebalance is "pro-India" and "anti-China." As the Obama administration calls India a "key partner" in the rebalance, Pakistan continues to hear from its "all-weather friend" China that the policy is containment, plain and simple. Pakistan wants no part of a policy that bolsters its enemy and hems in its friend.
Third, attendants argued that the rebalance is irrelevant. Pakistan's priority must instead be to get its economic house in order and to overcome its "global pariah" status. To the extent it can lift its gaze beyond its borders, it has enough to contend with India and Afghanistan.
Fourth, further responses suggested that Pakistan's own efforts to look east through its "Vision East Asia" policy have been less successful than hoped. Attempts to enhance engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), for example, have faltered; ASEAN continues to deny Pakistan full dialogue partner status. The reasons potentially range from a desire to ensure ASEAN's coherence to uncertainty about Pakistan's contribution to concerns about an unwanted import: militancy. China thus remains Pakistan's only viable avenue into the broader Asia-Pacific region. The same week I was in Islamabad, Pakistan's prime minister was in Beijing pitching a China-Pak economic corridor that would funnel in greater trade and investment.
Fifth, participants believed that Pakistan has little room to maneuver. The United States and China are great powers, while Pakistan is a small global player. It does not have the ability to act strategically in an analogous manner and meaningfully project itself into the Asia-Pacific region. Instead it is at the mercy of a new great game.
Given Pakistan's geography, travails, and anti-American sentiment, confusion and suspicion about the U.S. rebalance is understandable, just as the dearth of thought on how to tap Asia-Pacific's prosperity or apply relevant lessons is striking. Skepticism in Islamabad overlaps with that in Washington, where patience mutually runs thin given a fractious counter-terrorism partnership. Moreover, Pakistan is seen as a conceptual misfit in a policy anchored in the Asia-Pacific.
Yet the rebalance may be a more elastic concept and extend beyond the Asia-Pacific. In his remarks on "The United States and the Asia-Pacific" last month, Vice President Joe Biden underscored Latin America's role in the rebalance saying: "Our goal is to help tie Asia-Pacific nations together from India to the Americas." Meanwhile, others have argued that the rebalance should extend westward, beyond India, to include South Asia and the Middle East in an effort to match growing Chinese influence there.
Given this potential fluidity, the Obama administration should reassess how Pakistan relates to the rebalance as it searches for a coherent and constructive relationship post-2014. There may not be a fit but nonetheless, gauging and engaging Islamabad is a good place to start.
Ziad Haider is the director of the Truman National Security Project's Asia Expert Group. He served as a White House Fellow in the U.S. Department of Justice and as a national security aide in the U.S. Senate. You can follow him on Twitter at: @Asia_Hand.
Ng Han Guan - Pool via Getty Images
When I catch myself wondering about Pakistan's future, I am reminded of an old man I saw standing on the side of Mall Road in Lahore one hot summer evening last year. He stood there all by himself in the sweltering heat, dressed in a suit, holding up a sign that read: "We want Jinnah's Pakistan back." Watching him stand there, I found myself swept away in a moment of deep sadness - his message resonated with my own yearning for a better Pakistan, my own deep-seated desire to believe that Jinnah's dream of a prosperous Pakistan meant something. I later found out that the man had been involved in Pakistan's struggle for independence. He had fought for Pakistan in 1947 and he was clinging to the belief that his struggle had not been for nothing, that Jinnah's dream was still worth fighting for.
Today is August 14, the same day when 66 years ago Pakistan gained its independence and came into existence with the passionate words of its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who promised a new beginning:
"If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make."
Jinnah's promise of a Pakistan where caste, color, and creed did not divide people resonated after the bloodbath that had followed the subcontinent's partition. The horrific stories that accompanied the birth of the new state have been well-documented: trains full of bloodied corpses pulling up to stations, women in some villages begging to be killed to avoid being raped by rioters, neighbors slaughtering each other, and widespread rape and killing in what seemed like frenzied madness. In all, half a million people died and 10 million were displaced, a tragedy of momentous proportions that India and Pakistan struggled to deal with.
Sadat Hassan Manto beautifully captures the sense of deep angst, confusion and dislocation that partition created in his famous story Toba Tek Singh. Old identities were thrown into question and new ones were created as people found themselves separated from their lands, their homes, and their families with siblings on different sides of the same border. To some Pakistanis, Jinnah's words offered hope and solace in the aftermath of what became one of the largest forced migrations in modern history.
Yet the birth of the new state of Pakistan was not greeted with joy by many who found themselves, almost overnight, citizens of that state. The movement behind the formation of Pakistan was largely led by Muslims from the Muslim-minority regions of India, such as the United Provinces. This Muslim elite did not represent the views of the Muslim majority provinces that later became a part of Pakistan; in fact, the Muslim League had a very limited grass-roots presence in India's Muslim-majority provinces. Moreover, ethnic and religious tensions emerged quickly after partition. Baloch nationlists, for example, trace some of their grievances back to these early years, arguing that Jinnah had promised autonomy to the Khan of Kalat, ruler of the princely state of Kalat, now Balochistan, but had later forced the Khan to later accede unconditionally to Pakistan. Kashmir became an issue of lasting contention between India and Pakistan, which remains unresolved to this day. Both countries also faced the formidable task of resettling the millions of migrants who had crossed the border at partition.
While Pakistan faced considerable challenges from the very beginning, especially in terms of creating a sense of nationhood out of its diverse regions, there was enough hope surrounding the new state that Jinnah could speak of looking forward to "Pakistan becoming one of the greatest nations of the world." The real tragedy of Pakistan is that a mere 66 years later, it is now labeled the "most dangerous nation" in the world rather than one of the greatest nations. But how could things have gone so very wrong in less than seven decades?
This is a question that most Pakistanis have to grapple with today. It hangs heavy in the air during the horrifying aftermath of suicide blasts, sectarian violence, confrontations between the Pakistani military and militants, and separatist violence in Baluchistan. It is a question that plagues the growing population of Pakistanis who cannot get adequate security, clean drinking water, electricity, access to education, proper health care, and affordable food.
And yet this question resists any straightforward answers, with Pakistan's problems often blamed on a wide variety of things, including its problematic relationship with its Islamic identity, the history of military rule, incompetent leadership and bad decisions, President Zia-ul Haq's Islamization reforms, the Soviet-Afghan war, Pakistan's geo-political insecurities (especially involving India), and the U.S.-led "War on Terror," among others. Pakistanis cannot agree on a way forward and in the absence of that, there seems to be no end to the country's downward slide.
"We are in the midst of unparalleled difficulties and untold sufferings", Jinnah said in the aftermath of partition, "we have been through dark days of apprehension and anguish; but I can say with confidence that with courage and self-reliance and by the Grace of God we shall emerge triumphant." These words, spoken 66 years ago, speak just as easily to the situation that Pakistan finds itself in today. Yet, will courage, self-reliance and the Grace of God help Pakistan out of its current quandary? Pakistanis like myself often find themselves wondering - will things ever get better? Is Jinnah's dream of a utopian Pakistan just a distant relic of the country's past, no longer relevant or meaningful in the light of harsh realities?
Maybe now, more than ever, the struggle of the ordinary Pakistani is to believe that another world is possible, even in the face of harsh realities that suggest otherwise, even when the odds are stacked against it. After all, when Pakistanis stop believing that a better future is possible, that is when they have truly given up on their country. Maybe when that old man stood on the road with his banner demanding Jinnah's Pakistan, that's what he was doing - holding onto a dream when the world around him seemed to turn upside down.
Fatima Mustafa is a Carnegie Fellow at the New America Foundation and a PhD candidate at Boston University's Political Science department, writing her dissertation on the failures of state-building in Pakistan.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
A recent meeting of 200 Afghan tribal elders that I attended in Kabul illustrates why the 2014 presidential election will be pivotal to recapturing the Afghan people's trust in their government and establishing the kind of stability they -- and the international community -- crave.
The association of elders, known as maliks, was holding its annual meeting in April, gathering representatives from all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces and most of its districts, and inviting government officials and civil society leaders to discuss the critical issues facing their country at the local level. These maliks are key links between the people and the government in Afghanistan -- serving in semi-official roles for resolving disputes, delivering a measure of justice, and providing basic services when possible.
In my meeting with the group, I tried to understand why neither they nor the Afghan security forces, which most often outnumber the Taliban, can resist the militants, even when the elders say the presence of insurgents wreaks havoc on the local population. The maliks reported that they might have no more than 50 Taliban in their area, but as many as 300 to 500 government police officers or army soldiers on the ground. Helmand province alone has 12,000 police officers, according to one provincial official. I also asked the maliks how many people lived in their districts and the answers ranged from 50,000 to 200,000.
These ratios seem stacked in the government's favor. So why couldn't 300 to 500 Afghan security forces successfully take on 50 Taliban fighters, especially when thousands of people would benefit from such efforts?
The 200 elders made the answer clear: it's not about the size of the security forces or the quality of their equipment. It's about whether the Afghan people believe that the government and, by extension, the armed forces represent their interests and will defend their concerns. The public's trust has been eroded by widespread official corruption and efforts by the elite, and even the security forces, to enrich themselves as a hedge against the worst-case scenarios of a dramatic drop in international assistance or a collapse of the government.
From the perspective of these elders, it's as though two groups that don't represent them are fighting each other - one being the government and the other, the Taliban, fighting that government. The majority of ordinary Afghans are indifferent to both. Supporting either side makes no sense, according to the elders, when neither can be trusted to deliver on promises of security, justice, and services.
Before the 2010 U.S.-Afghan military offensive against the Taliban in Helmand province's town of Marja, then-General Stanley McChrystal famously commented that the international troops were prepared, once they vanquished the enemy, to install a "government in a box." The idea was to support a group of Afghan administrators and a provincial governor to immediately provide the services the people needed, along with the security that the troops were to deliver.
But you don't know what's in that box. How many pieces are there? Are they rotten? Building up the Afghan police and army has to be paired with credible governance.
The presidential elections scheduled for April next year provide another chance at that goal. With that date approaching and most international forces due to depart Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the comments of the elders should be a warning bell, not only for the contenders hoping to succeed President Hamid Karzai, but also for the international community and the United States, which has invested so heavily in Afghanistan's future.
International assistance for continuing to strengthen and modernize Afghanistan's security forces is important, of course. But without the trust of the Afghan people, the government that comes to power after the election will stand little chance of faring better than Karzai's regime. The successor also will have little chance of defeating the Taliban, or at least solidifying a strong negotiating position.
When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1992, they left behind the communist regime of Mohammad Najibullah, who was arguably in a much stronger position than Karzai today. Najibullah had hundreds of planes, thousands of tanks, heavy artillery, and a million-man military force. Yet, none of these could save the regime because people didn't have confidence that the security forces could successfully challenge the formidable, U.S.-backed mujahideen forces. The final blow came when the Soviet Union collapsed, and with it the financing that Najibullah had counted on.
In other words, if we want to save Afghanistan from collapse and another civil war that might lead to the re-establishment of safe havens for terrorist groups, it is imperative that the international community, especially the United States, supports a credible and inclusive electoral process that will be acceptable to the majority of Afghans and win continued international support. Without a government that represents the interests and values of the people, no amount of money and military force will be able to fill the legitimacy vacuum.Shahmahmood Miakhel is the Afghanistan Country Director at the United States Institute of Peace and served as Afghanistan's Deputy Minister of the Interior from 2003 to 2005. The views expressed here are his own.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
"Time is running out" to help nuclear-armed Pakistan's civilian government survive. That is what then-Senator John Kerry (D-MA) said in support of the recommendations of an Atlantic Council report that was released in February 2009. The report, which provided a comprehensive look at Western relations with Pakistan, estimated that, at that point, then-President Asif Ali Zardari's government had between 6 and 12 months to enact successful security and economic policies or face the prospect of collapse. "There is still time for us to be able to help the new civilian government, turn around its economy, stabilize the political system, and address the insurgency" festering in the eastern tribal lands on the Afghan border, said Kerry.
Kerry and his co-sponsor of the report, former senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), stressed that efforts to defeat extremist Islamist militants in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan required help for the people of both strife-torn countries. Speaking from his and Kerry's own experiences in the Vietnam War, Hagel warned that "if you lose the people, you lose everything. We cannot lose the people of Afghanistan, the people of Pakistan."
Today, as Kerry emerges from his first and much delayed visit to Pakistan as the current U.S. Secretary of State, he must have been struck by a sense of déjà vu. The mission that he and Hagel, now the U.S. Secretary of Defense, defined in 2009 remains largely unfinished. Pakistan has another civilian government facing an uphill task after the depradations of the previous one. Complicating the situation is the continuation of U.S. drone attacks on Pakistani soil that anger the Pakistani public and undermine the government's ability to work with the United States, and Pakistan's uncertain behavior regarding the Afghan Taliban that leads it to hedge in bringing them to the reconciliation table. Mistrust still pervades the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
Despite the change in names and positions, it is clear that with the anticipated clash of expectations regarding the hard economic and political realities of Afghanistan and South Asia, Pakistan today faces a tough task ahead, just as it did in 2009. Righting the U.S.-Pakistan relationship will take a longer-term plan of action, similar to one the Atlantic Council outlined four years ago. No Band-Aid approach of financial flows or even arms and equipment will work. The detailed recommendations provided in the 2009 report, and validated by discussions with Pakistan's leaders, including then-opposition leader Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's current Prime Minister, remain unimplemented. Secretaries Kerry and Hagel might do well to dust off the report they co-sponsored and see if they can persuade the Obama administration and the American public to appreciate the gravity of the situation in South Asia, while emphasizing the need for Pakistan to take ownership of its problems at a faster pace than the new government appears to be doing for now.
Re-starting the dormant Strategic Dialogue, as Kerry did last week, is just one component of this bilateral relationship. Pakistan should rapidly select and appoint a person of intellectual and political heft to be its ambassador in Washington, as leaving that slot vacant has sent a negative signal. The much delayed invitation from the White House to Sharif is welcome as a signal of the rebuilding of a relationship that was badly cracked by the successive events of 2011, truly the annus horribilis of this fraught "friendship." It is critical that the United States uses this reengagement to shore up the civilian government in Pakistan, even while it depends on the Pakistani military to help it exit Afghanistan in an orderly fashion.
It will be even more critical for Pakistan's civilian government to exhibit a strong desire and ability to take charge of key ministries. Energy appears to be front and center, and rightly so, though Sharif may want to rethink taking over the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence. Being prime minister is a large enough challenge; he should let other professionals run these key ministries. If civilian supremacy is to be established with confidence in Pakistan, Sharif needs capable persons running those ministries fulltime and should let them rationalize their operations and produce doctrines that are practicable and far-reaching.
Restoring the quality and strength of the federal and provincial bureaucracies is another key element in institutionalizing policy making. Pakistan's problems are too big to be left to the highly personalized "kitchen cabinet" or Punjabi loyalists. Signals matter too. Last week's selection of the new president did not reflect the need to honor a person of national or international standing with that post. Sharif chose a loyalist whom few in Pakistan knew before his nomination. Being a decent person, though necessary, is not enough for the job of Head of State. Sharif had much better candidates at hand but missed an opportunity to restore the grandeur and dignity of the office of President.
On regional relations, Sharif has the right instincts of a good businessman and he needs to stick with them. Open borders with India and Afghanistan can only bring longer-term stability and peace. But then why the inordinate delay in granting India Most Favored Nation status? There will be short-term costs for some trade sectors, for example the Punjabi agriculturalists, but those can be mitigated by persuading India to roll back some of its internal subsidies, allowing both sides to gain from the increase in trade. A regional approach to energy, involving central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India may be far more effective than the pipe dream of the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline that has floundered on the shoals of global politics and threats of U.S. sanctions. Joint Indo-Pakistan private sector investments may be the key to rapid results, starting with export-oriented operations that will not threaten domestic producers or markets; provided the bureaucrats can be persuaded to loosen their grip on the rules and regulations that weigh things down.
But what can the United States do regarding its relations with Pakistan? First, the administration can create a center of gravity for decision making on Pakistan, ensuring that there is a cohesive and comprehensive approach rather than departmental policies that may run at cross purposes. Then, it needs to ensure buy-in from the Pakistanis for its aid programs, including the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill for $7.5 billion that will end in 2014. Adding transparency in financial flows from the United States to the central Pakistan government and down to the provincial level will allow the Pakistan people to trust the U.S. assistance and show that promises are measured against ground realities. It should also change the pattern of expenditures so the aid monies flow into Pakistan and stay there, rather than flowing back to Washington consultancies.
Pakistan has the technological and managerial skills to implement, monitor, and evaluate aid projects to international standards. What it lacks is institutional capacity at the policy making level to make sound economic and financial decisions. This will require investing in centers of excellence across the country, where Pakistanis can learn the tools of decision making, and a new breed of managers and entrepreneurs is fostered. Pakistan needs help with its infrastructure, to connect itself internally and with neighbors, but the economy will only stabilize and grow if policy making keeps pace with its growing needs. A stable polity and growing economy will provide a platform for educating and developing productive jobs for the nearly 100 million Pakistani youth that are currently below Pakistan's median age of 22 years.
But this window of opportunity is narrowing for the governments of Pakistan and the United States. Sharif's honeymoon with the Pakistani population will likely be shorter than expected, as high hopes clash with the inability of the government to deliver results rapidly. As such, he will need to approach these issues in parallel rather than seriatim. To best help Sharif in these efforts, the United States would do well to review, update, and implement the recommendations that then-Senators Kerry and Hagel supported in 2009. If it does not, it will likely repeat the bilateral relationship rollercoaster ride of the past decade and suffer the consequences.
Shuja Nawaz is the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
This project was made possible by support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Name: Yunus Bakshi
Province: Shamali Plains, Kabul
Yunus Bakshi, the founder of Afghanistan's first astronomy association, is a small, soft-spoken but energetic man, who moves between a conservative family and liberal-minded friends. Having studied in Russia, he has friends who sided with the Russians, friends who spied for them, and also, friends who fought against them. We meet in a small office he keeps ostensibly for his astronomy club, but which at any given time also serves as a base camp for one or two drifters, friends of his in some state of transit. Recently returned emigres, or those about to depart; people generally inclined towards the life of the mind but without work; writers, filmmakers, and poets. Here, in a dark office with a few bare fluorescent bulbs hanging from the ceiling, over small sour cherries and cigarettes, he begins...
The following are the words of Yunus Bakshi, as told to Jeffrey E. Stern.
I grew up in a religious family. Muslims, like Christians, they believe that the world was created by God and everything that we see is perfect, and nothing is change-able -- this kind of idea. And in Islam it is stricter because you don't have the right to ask the cause of the creation of the universe. But when I read my first articles about the universe, it started some kind of mixture inside of my mind. I discovered that what the religions were saying is completely wrong.
And I feel that this kind of question could exist in the mind of every young Afghan. But on the other hand I discovered that if you learn more about the universe -- if you know that besides the earth there are many planets, hundreds billions of the stars -- then you as a human, as a Hazara, or Pashtoon, you're not even a tiny grain on the vast shore of the universe. And this has a very good application: to accept the differences in the world, accept the other peoples, accept the different ideas, different colors, religions, everything. And that to my mind was a very good means to change the people's minds, to teach Afghans that we should live in coexistence with the other people in the world.
We are not the only or the best nation, or the best people, in the world. We are the same as Americans, or Russians, or any other people. And the people who were introduced to astronomy, their mind definitely changed completely about this. For example, most Muslims think that, ‘it's ok if we don't have financial ability, or if we're poor, because we will have a good life in the afterlife in the heavens.' But when you read astronomy you begin to understand that everything that happens in this world is a result of our actions. God has no interference in our future or in our actions. The only one responsible is you. And that forces you to make changes for yourself. That helps you to manage your life in a better way. I think, to my mind, this is the best benefit from astronomy.
Since the announcement of this withdrawal date, my perception about the whole situation beyond 2014 several times has already changed. It shows that we are not sure, in Afghanistan, what will happen.
Even not considering the security situation, we have concerns. For example, unemployment. Because as international organizations leave this country it automatically creates more unemployment, many people will be sacked from these organizations and will be looking for jobs. Some of them are used to working in organizations with a good salary.
As for myself, I am more concerned about my future and my future employment than I am about the withdrawal of the international forces. And this points to a very serious concern, if you have this huge army of unemployed young people, that in itself creates chaos in Afghanistan. Many people are ready to do anything just to feed their family. Just to keep their life as it is.
And many people have weapons. I don't want to say exactly what they would do, but indirectly I want to say that some of them may even go to create some kind of gang, and this is just one of the problems.
My main concern is my family: my children, my wife, my mother. I'm looking for a safe haven somewhere, even outside of Afghanistan, if it is possible. Because I'm sure even if we have secure and stable government in Afghanistan, at the same time, unemployment, lack of any services, they all can create a very, very difficult situation for us.
I'm dying to give a good -- even if it's expensive -- a good education to my children. Because year by year searching for a good profession will become very difficult. I want to say that the main concern of every Afghan like me is employment, and to earn money to keep your family and a safe future. And day-by-day it gets harder. Because day-by-day I witness my friends who before had jobs are now unemployed. Because many organizations, they've already closed. Many NGOs already left the country.
Now I worry, if I flee the country, what would happen to my telescopes? To whom should I give them?
Edited by Jeffrey E. Stern.
Jeffrey E. Stern -- www.JeffreyEstern.com -- is a writer and development worker whose reporting from Afghanistan, Kashmir, and elsewhere has been published by The Atlantic, The New Republic, Esquire, Time, newsweek.com/The Daily Beast, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Jeffrey E Stern/Author Photo
Qais Akbar Omar, A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013).
Anna Badkhen, The World is a Carpet: Four Seasons in an Afghan Village New York: Riverhead Books, 2013).
Since 9/11, a considerable amount of ink has been spilled on descriptions of forward operating bases, Humvees, IEDs, and the pursuit of high-value targets in Afghanistan. As the U.S.-led engagement drags into its twelfth year, bookshelves brim with treatises on the rise and fall and rise again of the Taliban, and the life and death of Osama bin Laden. There have been a couple of readable accounts of the quarrels in Washington between the White House and everyone else over the Af-Pak adventure. In most of these stories, Afghans have been cast as bit players in the American drama over a military strategy that has swung wildly from "All In" surge fever to the cold turkey malaise of a "zero-option" withdrawal in 2014.
All the while Afghans have gone on living -- some fighting, some angling for power, many dying, but many more just surviving -- waiting for the country's endless war to end. This summer, two writers -- Qais Akbar Omar and Anna Badkhen -- have published fresh versions of that part of the Afghan story, offering a welcome break from the monotonous handwringing over the failure of Washington's policies. With the publication of her latest book, The World is a Carpet, Badkhen makes an important contribution to the Afghan travelogue genre. Qais, a Kabul-born Pashtun carpet maker, as it turns out, is one of the most compelling memoirists to emerge out of the country's troubles in recent memory. Both draw on carpet weaving as a metaphor for the complex pattern of life that has emerged out of Afghanistan's long war.
In A Fort of Nine Towers, Qais, a student of Boston University's creative writing program, offers a forceful account of coming of age at the height of Afghanistan's civil war, becoming a man under the Taliban, and learning to rebuild amid the uncertainty of a post-9/11 world. His simply-told narrative of his family's suffering and resilience begins in a once well-to do part of Kabul "in the time before the fighting, before the rockets, before the warlords and their false promises." There are no photos of this time because, as Qais explains, the family's photos and some of the people in them were destroyed in the fighting.
But, the memories of that time -- some good, some bad, many horrifying -- linger long past the end of the years of the factional fighting that destroyed the capital and the country. For a brief moment in 1992, before the civil war got fully underway, Qais and his family hold out hope that the new coalition government of anti-Soviet mujahideen fighters will return the country to normalcy. For months, Qais's grandfather, a one-time prominent businessman, and his father, a renowned boxing champion and high school physics teacher, search for possible clues to their future in a constant stream of BBC radio bulletins. When it seems certain that the future will remain uncertain for some time, the family begins to plot a way out of the country and seeks refuge across town at the home of a family friend in Qala-e Noborja, or the fort of nine towers.
More recent travelers to Kabul will remember Qala-e Noborja as the home of the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, a philanthropic venture backed by Britain's Prince Charles and Rory Stewart, a well-known British MP who used part of the proceeds from his published chronicle of his walk across Afghanistan in 2002 to fund the foundation. Longtime residents of the city -- Afghan and foreign alike -- will also remember the disputes that have long surrounded the early 19th century fort as it has shifted from royal outpost to civil war refuge to craftsmen's workshop to bacchanal hippie headquarters and most recently to the home of a new Afghan think tank.
A masterpiece of Afghan craftsmanship, the fort of nine towers has served as refuge for all comers and is one of the few such examples of architecture from the pre-Soviet era to have survived Kabul's many batterings. Qais, in his page-turner, adds another chapter to the fort's rich history, recounting several of his harrowing forays out of the fort into the Afghan capital as street thugs, factional commanders and snipers take aim at him and everything that comes their way. The war chases Qais and his family northward, where he gets an education on his country while on the road with nomads, and on the loom from a beguiling deaf-mute female carpet weaver who gives him the tools he needs to survive. It is out there, away from the shelter of the fort, that Qais begins to understand how much his father and grandfather have sacrificed for the family's survival. For those looking for a break from the abstractions of policy muddles in Doha and Kabul, Qais's book should be first on the summer reading list.
Badkhen's book, The World is a Carpet, might make an interesting companion read for those looking for a follow-on to A Fort of Nine Towers. Badkhen's main success in writing her book on the life of a hard scrabble village in northern Afghanistan lies in the fact that she is one of the few recent travelers to the country to actually write about Afghans. In her second book of warzone reportage, Badkhen, a seasoned freelance journalist, journeys to the heart of the country's contradictions -- a place where "unspeakable violence" meets "inexpressible beauty."
Part memoir, part travelogue, part elegiac exegesis on the Afghan conflict, Badkhen's story begins and ends in the tiny village of Oqa -- a place so insignificant in the annals of the country's forever war that it doesn't even rate a marker on Google Maps. Badkhen, who has reported on Afghanistan since the Taliban was toppled, discovered Oqa in 2010 during a quixotic reporting trip across the northern reaches of the country. Tucked away in the forlorn desert scrub that stretches from the northern metropolis of Mazar-e Sharif to the border of Uzbekistan, Oqa is not known for much of anything, except for the elegant carpets woven by the long suffering women of the village. It is a dead zone of drought and rural decay long ignored by powerbrokers in the capital of Kabul.
But Badkhen brings the tiny hamlet of 240 people to life on the page in her tale of survival at the margins of America's longest war. There, over the course of a year, Badkhen observes the harsh toll years of privation and war take on the family of her host, Baba Nazar, a patrician elder of Oqa, who tries but often fails to overcome the odds stacked against this neglected corner of the world. Nazar's survival and that of the village turns on the carpets woven by his wife Boston and daughter-in-law Thawra, who earn about 40 cents a day weaving carpets that will fetch hundreds of dollars on the open market in most Western capitals. Knot by knot, season by season, the women of Oqa weave, trade bawdy jokes, give birth, and down opium to fight the fatigue of daily doldrums. The village men, young and old, play their roles too, hunting, smoking, trading and dreaming of escape from the indescribable poverty they live in.
Students of Afghanistan and Central Asia will recognize in Badkhen's impressionistic descriptions of this desert netherland a sort of textbookish homage to Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana. An emphatic nod is also given to other more recent travelers of the Silk Road, with each page echoing heavily of Rory Stewart's The Places in Between, though never quite approaching the coherence of Stewart's Afghan travelogue. There is something admirable in Badkhen's attempt to fuse the lyrical with the historic and journalistic. To date, few observers of the war have spent much time mapping the isolation of life outside Afghanistan's urban centers -- for that Badkhen must be commended. Her narration of the struggles of a drug addicted infant who barely clings to life during a particularly harsh winter offers a window into an important undercurrent of the conflict, which is as much about the control of opium trade routes as it is about anything else. At times, she manages to break free of her tendency toward overwrought poetics to make a sharp observation about the devastating impact of the conflict on rural Afghans.
But, it is hard not to come away from reading The World is a Carpet feeling like the victim of adjectival assault. There are men with "strabismic" eyes and a fog that rises from "sepia fields" in the "trout-colored desert." The stich-by-stich narrative of carpet weaving often gets bogged down in Badkhen's overly floral language. The overall effect is a sort of herky-jerky rendering of Afghan life that undercuts her attempt to capture an underreported part of the war. Badkhen, instead, is at her most lucid in the book when she allows herself to be part of the story, such as when she contemplates the possibility that one of her hosts might sell her to the Taliban. When she is there, wrestling with the contradictions of being an insider-outsider with a passport that lets her come and go as she pleases, she is at her best and, perhaps, most candid. Indeed, those are the scenes that redeem the book, reserving a unique place for it on the shelves of books about the war. Afghanistan's story is hard to tell.
It is difficult to write exceptionally about such an exceptional place, but both Badkhen and Qais are more than admirable for trying.
Candace Rondeaux is a non-resident research fellow at the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School. She lived in Kabul from 2008 to 2013, working first as South Asia bureau chief for The Washington Post, and most recently as senior analyst in Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group. She is writing a political history of the Afghan security forces and is currently undertaking a mid-career masters at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
On July 3, 2013, a female health worker was killed in northwest Pakistan while conducting polio vaccinations; she was the latest to die in an on-going anti-vaccination campaign by militants. About three weeks earlier, on June 16, militants killed two male volunteers who were administering polio vaccines in northeast Pakistan. That these two attacks follow the fatal shooting of female health workers engaged in a polio vaccination campaign on May 28 provides a stark reminder that polio vaccinators in Pakistan continue to face a serious threat of violence.
Polio, a virus with no cure that can cause paralysis and death, has been the target of a worldwide eradication effort and since the vaccination campaign began in 1988, there has been a 99% decline in reported cases. Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan are the only countries were the virus is still endemic and continued violence against Pakistan health workers poses a threat to the continued success of these eradication efforts.
The recent wave of violence against polio workers is likely linked to opposition from the Pakistani Taliban to the vaccination campaign. On June 16, 2012, Taliban leaders in both North and South Waziristan banned the vaccination campaign pending a cessation of American drone strikes in the region. Since then, there have been at least 27 incidents of violence against health workers involved in Pakistan's polio vaccination campaign, and against the security personnel tasked with protecting them. At least 22 people involved in these efforts have been killed and another 14 people have been injured.
Increased opposition to polio vaccinations may also be linked to the revelation that the CIA used a fake Hepatitis vaccination program during its attempt to locate Osama bin Laden. Media outlets as diverse as Business Week, The Guardian, and Scientific American published pieces criticizing the ruse for endangering polio vaccinators. One anti-polio worker commented on the effects of the fake vaccination program in 2012 saying, "It's been over ten months since the Al-Qaeda Chief Osama Bin Laden is dead [sic], but his ghost is still haunting our efforts not only to persuade the people in the country's northwestern parts, particularly in the tribal belt, to get their kids vaccinated, but also to move freely."
In July 2012, this surge of violence against polio health workers in Pakistan began with two shootings in Gadap Town, Karachi. On July 17, a UN doctor from Ghana and his driver were shot; three days later, another polio worker involved in the same campaign was also shot. In October 2012, a polio vaccinator was killed in the Killi Jeo area of Quetta during a three-day vaccination campaign. But the violence against polio workers reached new heights in December 2012. In the span of just two days, eight people were killed in six separate attacks.
The increasing violence against health workers, as demonstrated by the December attacks, forced a widespread change in the way polio vaccinations are conducted in Pakistan. The World Health Organization suspended its vaccination campaign due to its inability to ensure security for its workers. The Pakistani government provided security guards for vaccination teams and issued new guidelines urging vaccination campaigns to avoid publicizing their visits out of fear of encouraging attacks.
In February 2013, Pakistan's Capital Development Authority (CDA) announced the launch of a four-day sub-national polio vaccination campaign, prompting some to report that the campaign violated the new guidelines. In particular, an anonymous senior official with the Prime Minister's polio monitoring cell was quoted as saying: "The CDA's fanfare that accompanied the launching drive has put the lives of over 160 vaccinators at stake." These fundamental changes and the confusion they have created is also illustrated by the refusal of some health workers, including the two killed on June 16, to accept protection from security details, out of fear that it will actually make them targets.
While the intensity of the violence against polio health workers decreased after the December attacks, it did continue. In January 2013, there were three incidents that killed three people (though one involved a roadside bomb that might have only incidentally targeted polio vaccinators). One person was killed in Ghalia Der, Mardan in February; and in March, a polio center was bombed, injuring one health worker, and another polio vaccinator was abducted for ransom. There were another seven violent incidents targeting polio teams in April and three more in May.
The violence against polio workers takes many forms. Shootings are the most prominent method of attack, constituting all but six cases, and at least 12 of the 27 incidents involved shootings by multiple attackers. The remaining incidents consist of two cases of abduction and mistreatment (including torture), one bombing of a polio center, one roadside bomb explosion, one attack with an ax, and one case of stone throwing.
The cases involving multiple shooters suggest that there is an organized attempt to target polio vaccinators by militant groups with the capability to direct such attacks. In none of the cases, however, did a militant group claim responsibility for an attack. In fact, the Pakistani Taliban has regularly denied involvement in the attacks.
The violence has taken a tremendous toll on Pakistan's polio workers, but it is not simply an issue for Pakistan's health and development workers. Setbacks in Pakistan's eradication efforts threaten the ability of other countries to remain polio free, as seen when strains of polio linked to Pakistan caused a small outbreak in China in 2011 and were found in an Egyptian sewer in 2012. While the number of registered polio cases in Pakistan dropped in 2012, the surge in violence against health workers occurred at the very end of the year, making its effects unlikely to show up in the numbers. As of July 10, 2013, there have been 18 cases of polio so far this year, compared to 22 cases during the same period last year.
The wider global community would also do well to pay attention to the attacks on polio workers in Pakistan because violence against health workers is an issue affecting many other countries. In May, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a report showing that, in 2012, there were 921 violent incidents affecting healthcare in 22 countries experiencing armed conflict and other emergencies. Nigeria in particular has seen attacks on health workers and polio vaccinators similar to those in Pakistan. At least nine polio workers were killed by gunmen in attacks there in early February 2013.
Historical experience suggests that health workers will often become targets in civil wars and insurgencies as they did in Nicaragua and Mozambique in the 1980s, Chechnya in the 1990s, and in Somalia in the 2000s. Giving greater attention to what does and doesn't work in Pakistan with regard to protecting polio workers will pay dividends in securing future global health efforts. In particular, examining Pakistan's efforts may provide international aid organizations with new information regarding the costs and benefits of eradication strategies that minimize publicity and increase the presence of armed security personnel in order to continue vaccinations during conflict.
David Sterman is a Master’s candidate at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies and an intern with the New America Foundation.
Good intentions and clear political willingness to commit significant resources has meant that, waste and inefficiencies aside, the U.S. has been able to muster military and financial support for the war in Afghanistan from nearly 50 nations. Recently, however, Afghan and Coalition allies, along with other influential regional power brokers such as India, are starting to publicly question U.S. policy in Afghanistan, particularly the decision to engage with and support the Taliban in opening a political office in Qatar.
For reasons discussed below, the dialogue between the Taliban and the U.S. should continue, quietly and with limited objectives. But public, ill-choreographed, overly ambitious, and unrealistic attempts at reconciliation will continue to make the Doha peace process a dangerous and distracting sideshow that will hurt rather than support U.S. foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan.
For some time, the U.S. has been coordinating with other stakeholders to jump start reconciliation efforts between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Less than a month ago, that effort culminated in a rather embarrassing press conference for the opening -- according to the Taliban banner in the background -- of the political office of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." Afghan officials and many other governments, including the U.S., reacted harshly to what appeared to have been a serious miscalculation of the Taliban's intentions.
To be fair, Secretary of State John Kerry quickly admitted that "the United States is very realistic about the difficulties in Afghanistan," and acknowledged that a final settlement "may be long in coming," emphasizing that if the new Taliban office in Qatar proved unproductive, he would push for its closure. Similarly, the new Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador James Dobbins, reiterated support for the Afghan-led reconciliation, admitting that the Taliban's consequential press conference "may have been a combination of misunderstanding and a desire for a certain propaganda victory, which I think turned out to be - from their standpoint - disappointing." Placing such emphasis on reconciliation in the first place, however, was neither appropriate nor useful in achieving U.S. national objectives in Afghanistan and the region.
In fact, the disastrous grand opening of the Taliban office represents the first time that the U.S. has yielded political initiative to the Taliban - even if fleetingly. Or as the Brookings Institution's Bruce Riedel puts it, "instead of being treated as insurgents or terrorists, the Taliban got the symbols of statehood."
Furthermore, it has brought the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) negotiations to a halt. No matter how well intentioned the U.S. administration was in its avid support of Afghan-led reconciliation efforts, its attempt to take such an active role in the process has backfired. Many worry, however that President Karzai's emotional overreaction to the Taliban office will damage U.S.-Afghan relations even more than the U.S. attempts to restart the talks. This is particularly concerning given the July 9 report that President Obama is keeping the "zero option" -- removing all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 -- on the table.
Beyond the immediate negative impact, however, hurrying reconciliation or looking for quick fixes also increases the risk of potentially calamitous outcomes. For example, continuing to support public engagement with the Taliban - who are in full ‘summer offensive' swing - while there is no national consensus for reconciliation, may lead to a spiral of violence and a fragmentation of the Afghan polity along ethnic, anti-Taliban, and fundamentalist lines. From there, it is not too far-fetched to imagine a return of al-Qai'da to an ungoverned and insecure environment.
Equally dangerous, in the near term, is that the uncertainty is also encouraging former mujahedeen commanders to consider rearming fighters to guard against their sense of abandonment by the U.S. These warlords, some of whom are still in the Afghan government, find it incredibly difficult to understand how the Americans, having sacrificed so much fighting the Taliban, are now bringing the insurgent group in from the cold.
Also of concern is that many Afghans believe that the so-called Taliban representatives in Doha owe their allegiance and loyalty more to Pakistan than the senior Afghan Taliban leadership; thus, arguably, giving no guarantee that negotiations in Doha will have any positive impact in Afghanistan at all in terms of reduced violence. Expectations in Kabul are that even if negotiations in Doha are wildly successful, rank and file Taliban in the field will not adhere to deals made there. Furthermore, no matter how much some have tried to convince the Western audience that digging ditches on a development project for $15 a day will convert the "$10 a day Taliban" to the side of the Afghan government, the fighters are not just in it for the money.
Furthermore, at least for now, the Taliban and the Afghan government are either incapable or unwilling to conduct substantive peace negotiations in Doha or anywhere else. The Taliban do not recognize the Karzai government as legitimate, and the Afghan government, for its part, is in no position to offer a "deal" to the Taliban that is going to be supported by the majority of the opposition groups and, more importantly, the majority of the Afghan people. As such, the U.S. should stop wasting effort and political capital on starting a process that is going nowhere for now, and should focus talks on limited and manageable objectives such as the near-term issue of prisoner exchanges and the mid-term objective of severing Pashtun tribal support to al-Qai'da and affiliated militants along the Af-Pak border. Reconciliation prospects are, at best, a long-term process that the U.S. can support, but cannot lead. It should not, particularly in its nascent stages, be taking center stage over other much more significant and meaningful issues.
This well-intentioned but ill-conceived meddling in Afghan reconciliation efforts has created a perhaps unfair -- but dangerously persistent -- perception that there is a convergence of interest between the U.S. and the Taliban, and a divergence of strategy between the U.S. and its allies. Although the Obama administration is trying to quickly correct this misperception, the damage is done. As the U.S. contemplates its next move, it needs to not only reconsider its position on Afghan reconciliation but also its relationship with the Afghan government - the other half of the reconciliation efforts.
In order to affect a real, sustainable, and positive outcome in Afghanistan, the U.S. is better off focusing less on reconciliation and, instead, reassessing and reaffirming its relationship with the Afghan government. Reaching a conclusion in the negotiations over the BSA and declaring the size of the residual presence in Afghanistan post-2014 are two important issues the U.S. could start with.
While achieving a peace deal in Afghanistan in time for the coalition withdrawal at the end of 2014 would be ideal, it is also highly unlikely. Instead of making attempts to entice both the Taliban and the Afghan government to substantive but rushed peace negotiations, the U.S. must refocus on providing solid, albeit conditional, aid and support to the Afghan government in return for progress, as outlined in numerous international community conferences. Rather than focusing on what has turned out to be a reconciliation sideshow in Doha, the U.S. should focus its considerable resources on improving Afghan governance and strengthening the Afghan National Security Forces.
Holding the Afghan government accountable for the poor governance and corruption that undermine economic progress and deny future opportunities to Afghans struggling to find jobs in a business environment plagued by bribery, uncertainty, and predatory behavior are much more important to peace in Afghanistan than reconciliation efforts with the Taliban. Coupling these challenges with the rampant narcotics production problem, the flight of many Afghan diplomats and other government officials out of the country, and lost opportunities such as the failure to capitalize on vast economic opportunities in the mining sector, makes open negotiations with the Taliban in Doha a sideshow, not the real challenge for Afghanistan's future.
But, like it or not, the Taliban now have a political office in Doha. The international community's demand on the Taliban political office should be simple: ultimate reconciliation will be an issue decided by Afghans, but as long as the Taliban attempt, via violent means, to forge an Afghanistan similar to that which existed pre-9/11, the world will not accept them as a legitimate entity. The U.S. and its allies - including Afghanistan - should insist that with such legitimate public representation comes responsibility in full view of the international community.
Throughout history, even the most polarized enemies sought open channels of communications. No one should consider dialogue between foes a bad thing; the key lies in identifying common ground in order to minimize violence and active fighting. If the most charged discussions remain private, and public declarations are carefully choreographed, the chance of embarrassment is minimized. Afghans should always be the lead in discussions with the Taliban office in Doha, but without pressure from Western partners expecting miracles; at least not until after next year's Afghan presidential elections.
It will probably take a very long time to see an eventual positive outcome in Central Asia, or to dissect the failures responsible for not getting there. However, efforts in Afghanistan don't have to end in disaster. For things to improve, American foreign policy must find a way to remain well-intentioned but also imaginative, with strategic and inspirational vision, worthy of what most around the world consider the most powerful nation on earth.
Ioannis Koskinas was a military officer for over twenty years and now focuses on economic development projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Much has happened in Afghanistan since 2001, and there is heightened uncertainty about the country's political future with the security handover being completed, conflict with the Taliban continuing - despite attempts to begin a reconciliation dialogue in Qatar, the withdrawal of international troops proceeding, and the 2014 presidential election approaching. While the situation on the ground is quite different from when the Bonn Agreement was signed nearly a dozen years ago, the Bonn experience can, to some extent, inform current thinking about Afghanistan's upcoming political transition.
The 2001 Bonn Agreement involved an agreed transfer of power from one nominal head of state, Burhanuddin Rabbani, to another, Hamid Karzai, after the fall of the Taliban regime, and occurred without substantial violent conflict both during the negotiations and over the three-year period covered by the Bonn process. This is exceptional given that leadership changes in Afghanistan during the past century have occurred through assassinations, coups, forced exiles, and, between 1978 and 2001, devastating wars and civil conflict. Since a peaceful transfer of power is also a primary objective of the current political transition, it is worth reviewing several key components of the Bonn experience:
Some possible elements of continuity with the current political transition are evident. Many current Afghan political actors were part of or affected by the Bonn process; fragmented, personalized, factional politics remain extremely important; organized political parties (especially nationally-oriented ones) remain weak; there is no obvious candidate for head of state (for the first time in an Afghan presidential election, no incumbent will be on the ballot); and a number of actors - including some members of the "loyal opposition" to the Karzai government - desire to come to a consensus or at least agree on broad parameters in advance of the election. However, the differences are more striking.
First, all aspects of the Bonn Agreement were finalized when it was signed at the meeting, including the choice of interim head of state. A national presidential election is a fundamentally different process.
Second, negotiations at Bonn were kept on-track (and basically not allowed to fail) by heavy international pressure to conclude an agreement quickly and, during the following three years, to ensure timely implementation of the Bonn roadmap. Although the 2014 presidential election provides an ultimate deadline for any pre-election negotiations, their success is by no means assured.
Third, in 2001, the Afghan government had been devastated by two decades of protracted conflict and did not have any impact on Bonn. Now the government has built up considerable capacity and power, which can be deployed to influence the current political transition.
Fourth, in late 2001, the international community's engagement in Afghanistan had just started and was growing, whereas next year's presidential election will occur alongside the international military disengagement from Afghanistan and declining international financial support.
Fifth, the Taliban - widely regarded as defeated and irrelevant during the Bonn negotiations - are currently seen as an important force in the country, and are being actively courted by the international community in parallel reconciliation efforts, which may distract attention from the political transition; moreover, the Taliban clearly have the capability to be a disruptive force in the upcoming elections.
Based on these major differences as well as elements of continuity, here are some questions to consider as the political transition moves forward:
Thinking about these questions probably tells us more about the mindsets of some actors from the time of Bonn who remain significant political players today than about how the 2014 political transition might actually proceed. While some may be enamored with behind-the-scenes negotiations, allocating ministerial and other top positions in advance, and perhaps even hoping for an outside entity to serve as "broker," key factors that made the Bonn process viable and sustained it for three years are no longer present. Whatever may be decided in advance, things could go off-track before, during, or after the 2014 presidential election. Moreover, any agreements reached among various political actors and groupings (sometimes termed a "national agenda") would not necessarily have the internationally-backed force and staying power of the Bonn Agreement. Thus, while there may be similarities to certain features of Bonn, a Bonn-like scenario seems unlikely for the current political transition. Nevertheless, the Bonn experience provides an illuminating counterpoint to weave around and inform thinking about 2014.
William Byrd is an Afghanistan senior expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. The views expressed here are his own.
Oliver Multhaup/DPA/Getty Images
In complex post-conflict environments such as Afghanistan, security and development needs are intertwined. Without addressing both at the same time, it would be hard to ensure an environment that enables sustainable economic growth. In other words, bullets alone cannot remedy Afghanistan's current situation. In fact, as former U.S. President Bill Clinton once said, "it's the economy stupid," something that is even more relevant in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.
Terrorism in the country is fueled by a large number of Taliban foot soldiers former ISAF Commander General David Petraeus used to call "ten-dollar-a-day Taliban." They are non-ideological, but have resorted to violence in the absence of a sustainable livelihood that supports themselves and their families. Many of these rental fighters can and should be weaned off the battlefield with an alternate long-term income.
Hence, it is the creation of more jobs for Afghanistan's youthful population in urban and rural areas that can ensure durable stability in the country. But those jobs should be sustainable in a productive economy, since the lessons learned so far demonstrate that employment created through "quick fixes," like cash-for-work projects, has only temporarily addressed what remains Afghans' top need and concern. In the final analysis, short-term job creation measures are sure to fail-unless they are geared towards promoting and facilitating sustainable income generation in the Afghan economy.
Around 70% of Afghanistan's 35 million citizens are below the age of 25, a vast majority of whom are the breadwinners of large households that include war widows and children. Given the personal experience of this author, because Afghans begin working from an early age to support their families, they are resilient and enterprising. And despite a high rate of illiteracy, they constitute a responsible, energetic, and industrious workforce. Unfortunately, they lack access to skill development opportunities, capital, and credit to grow the small- and medium-sized businesses that make up Afghanistan's vast informal economy.
This situation provides for numerous investment opportunities in every sector in Afghanistan. During last June's Delhi Investment Summit on Afghanistan, for example, the Afghan Ministry of Commerce and Industries presented potential investors with a detailed list of investment opportunities in Afghanistan. These investors, representing 320 international businesses, were informed of investment opportunities in the agriculture, construction, energy, finance, health services, information and communication technologies, minerals, small- and medium-sized industry, and transportation sectors.
However, with the exception of a few domestic and foreign "first movers" in each of these sectors and their related markets, most of the Afghan markets remain under-invested. The government of Afghanistan frequently encourages regional and international investors to visit Afghanistan and see for themselves the countless, highly profitable investment opportunities that exist.
Last November, during his state visit to India, President Hamid Karzai also encouraged the Indian business community to explore investment opportunities in Afghanistan. Meeting with a group of business leaders in Mumbai, he even promised to roll out a red carpet for major Indian firms, if they made moves to enter Afghanistan's virgin markets.
However, most investors are genuinely concerned about the overall business environment in Afghanistan, as security and governance are two of the key enablers for any business to flourish. Insecurity and weak governance undermine business efforts and put investments at risk; and like most post-conflict countries, Afghanistan is not free of these challenges. But the country continues to confront and address them, in partnership with the international community.
Despite sensationally negative news reports on Afghanistan, the country has made monumental gains in building the civilian and military institutions of the state, which are based on one of the most progressive constitutions in the region. The Afghan Constitution also provides for a private sector-led economy.
In January, the World Bank welcomed Afghanistan's 2012 double-digit growth rate of 11 percent, and listed the country as the fasted growing economy in South Asia in its Global Economic Prospects report. Moreover, the World Bank's Doing Business Index for 2013 ranks Afghanistan 28 out of 185 countries in establishing a business in the country. These positive rankings have been made possible by the work of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, which serves as a one-stop-shop for investors, both foreign and domestic, enabling the easy registration and establishment of a business in Afghanistan within a couple of weeks.
Over the past 12 years, Afghanistan has also enacted a number of commercial and investment laws, including a company law, a consumer protection law, a competition law, a partnership law, and an arbitration law. These laws have streamlined many of the problems associated with Afghanistan's former central-planned economy. However, there are times when a lack of institutional capacity prevents the Afghan government from implementing and enforcing these laws, which meet international business and investment standards. But these bottlenecks can be addressed through Afghan business consulting firms or joint ventures with successful, reliable Afghan firms that have local investment experience.
As for security, there are only a handful of districts in Afghanistan where it is hard to do business. Most of the country is secure, and open for business and investment. Domestic and foreign investors have prospered in provinces throughout the country, including Balkh, Herat, Kabul, Kandahar, and Nangarhar.
Besides vast investment opportunities inside the country, Afghanistan serves as a gateway to a region that includes some of the fastest growing economies in the world. This makes the country a natural trading hub that connects the Indian subcontinent with Central Asia, the Middle East, and China, markets that include over 50 million consumers. Also, its central location makes Afghanistan a natural locus for an emerging regional network of trade routes and pipelines.
The ease of competition and the ample potential for growth in Afghanistan are relatively new developments. For the first time in decades, Afghanistan enjoys the most investment-friendly environment in the region. Afghans see these new opportunities as a way to rebuild their homeland. They are proud of their long, 2000-year history as a commerce and cultural exchange.
With each economic opportunity that is fulfilled, the people of Afghanistan move one step closer to reconnecting with their heritage and securing a good future for their country. Afghan and foreign investors can play a major role in helping the Afghan people fulfill their national destiny.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan's deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
The Taliban office in Doha is officially open for business, though it is unclear when now-stalled talks will begin. President Obama and officials in his administration have been quick to dampen expectations that peace is at hand -- or even in immediate sight -- which has proved wise given the current anger from Afghans over the way in which the Taliban office opened.
"This is an important first step towards reconciliation, although it is a very early step," President Obama said during a bilateral meeting with French President Francoise Hollande. "We anticipate there will be a lot of bumps in the road." A senior government official echoed those words, stressing to reporters that everyone needed to "be realistic. This is a new development, a potentially significant development. But peace is not at hand."
The United States has long spoken about winding down the war in Afghanistan and bringing its longest war to what the president has called a "responsible end." The 2009 announcement of an American troop "surge" in Afghanistan was accompanied by a drawdown timeline. But as the Iraq example suggests, the United States is better at withdrawing on schedule than withdrawing while leaving peace in its wake. Sectarian violence is surging in Iraq and as National Public Radio noted Tuesday morning, many analysts place the blame for the skyrocketing death count and rising insecurity on an America that washed its hands too soon of a country whose leader it had toppled.
America has vowed it will not "abandon" Afghanistan, including the country's women, with the president promising that the United States would "stand by" Afghans during the country's political and security transitions. A presidential election is scheduled for next April and already questions have surfaced about voter fraud and the willingness of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to transition himself out of office.
Alongside the political transition is the pressing question of what, exactly, the economic transition will bring. The past decade of economic openness has transformed a slew of sectors in a country that was largely isolated from the global economy just twelve years ago. While many in the U.S. think of Afghanistan as simply an aid-dependent basket case, green shoots abound.
The telecommunications sector is booming in a nation that counts nearly two-thirds of its population under the age of 25. Three-quarters of the country is covered by mobile networks and one in two Afghans say they have access to a mobile phone. The Afghan government notes that "over a period of five years from 2002 to 2007, there was tenfold increase in the telephone subscriptions, indicating an annual growth rate of about 60 percent." Media is thriving and the country now counts more than 70 television stations, with radio remaining an information staple in a country that counted the BBC and Voice of America as it news mainstays before 2001.
While the technology sector is very much in its infancy, technology start-ups are found in Kabul, Herat and the north, and 3G reached Afghanistan in 2012. Social networking is especially popular among urban twenty-somethings, with the country now home to roughly 400,000 Facebook users who talk and hang out online in ways they never could in person.
On the natural resources front in this mineral-rich country, Afghanistan has been doling out contracts to foreign firms, even as security has blocked some from advancing. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is now developing the Amu Darya oil basin in the north of the country and the Atlantic noted that "an American chemical company and a consortium of diaspora Afghans are seeking to build refineries to service CNPC's extraction activities, as well as expected future extractors."
As the fountain of aid slows to a trickle, however, Afghanistan faces a funding cliff of daunting proportions. The World Bank estimated that in 2011 the country's foreign aid tally was the same size as its GDP, $15.7 billion. Since then, the economy has expanded with an outstanding harvest season and the start of mining activities, leading GDP to climb from 7.8 percent to nearly 12 percent. But the question of what 2014 means for the Afghan economy looms large -- and remains largely overlooked by many outside Afghanistan.
Harvard University tried to change that recently by convening a group of entrepreneurs, diplomats, and security types to harvest ideas for developing a "job-creating infrastructure," but scant attention has been paid to economics, despite its intimate relationship with security. The World Bank, among others, has cautioned that the "political and security uncertainties of the transition period are likely to take a toll on business confidence."
The political uncertainty ahead, and the funding cliff to come, has left Afghanistan's economic future filled with question marks. While the world pledged continued economic support for the country at the Tokyo conference in July 2012, actual funding levels remain unclear. And as the world's attention wanes, making sure these dollars reach Afghan coffers should be a priority for all those who have invested a decade of blood and treasure in the country.
In last year's vice presidential debate, Vice President Joe Biden told America "we are leaving in 2014, period, and in the process, we're going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion. We've been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now all we're doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It's their responsibility, not America's."
This week's news makes clear that, like it or not, America remains very much in the center of bringing a lasting peace to Afghanistan. And while the United States may want to shed its Afghanistan obligations -- including its commitment to supporting the Afghan economy -- those who care about Afghanistan's security, and America's, will want to make certain the green shoots get tended.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/GettyImages
As coalition troops prepare to leave Afghanistan next December, reports of an impending civil war, sensationalized and embellished by foreign press mostly, have dominated many international headlines. These reports cite rampant corruption in the Afghan government, violent insurgency, spectacular attacks by the Taliban in major cities, fears of more restrictions on women's rights, and ethnic divisions as signs of a doomsday awaiting to befall post-2014 Afghanistan.
But if you ask ordinary Afghans about their future in 2015 and beyond, they are more likely to express fears about an economic recession, increased violence by militants, total abandonment by the international community, and uncertainty about President Karzai's replacement than a civil war or a triumphant return of the Taliban to power.
This discrepancy is because the political dynamics in today's Afghanistan are radically different from those in 1992, when various armed factions of anti-Soviet rebels took power. Back then, the mujahedeen, as they called themselves, enjoyed a certain level of public support. There were no independent media outlets, no civil institutions, and no major commitments by the international community to support Afghanistan after the communists' fall. In 1992, Afghans did not have the opportunity to democratically elect their leaders and thousands of armed rebels took positions outside the gates of Kabul, effectively cutting off the capital from the rest of the country. Most importantly, the Soviet Union, Afghanistan's primary patron, not only ended all of its aid to the Afghan National Army (ANA), but ceased to exist as a country itself.
Afghans take these factors into account when they calculate their future. Uncertainty and economic fears may be well founded and prevalent, but no one in Afghanistan believes the takeover of a half-finished construction site by a bunch of violent extremists, whose grim visions are so far away from the realities of today's Afghanistan, is an indication of a looming civil war like the one they experienced in the 1990s. In fact, many are dismayed when foreign analysts and reporters call fighting between Afghan security forces and foreign extremists in the mountains of Kunar and Nuristan provinces a civil war, but consider NATO advisers training and supporting the ANA as part of the invasion.
While some foreign analysts appear to have concluded a post-withdrawal Taliban takeover is inevitable, public opinion surveys inside Afghanistan show that Afghans beg to differ en masse. For example, a 2012 public opinion survey by the Asia Foundation found that Afghans' confidence in their security forces and in their future has steadily risen over the last six years. In fact, the foundation found that this confidence, especially in the ANA, runs in the 90th percentile (93 percent of Afghans expressed a "fair amount" or a "great deal" confidence in ANA). Meanwhile, sympathy for insurgents has declined steadily, especially in the last few years as the Taliban and other militant groups have stepped up their violent terror campaign, primarily attacking and killing civilians in the country. The survey's findings show that almost two-thirds of Afghans now oppose the armed insurgents. This data clearly indicates that the elusive leader of the Taliban is as likely to win a free and fair election for the Afghan presidency as the Newtown shooter would for becoming the governor of Connecticut.
Some analysts have expressed concerns that there will be more restrictions on women, and that gains made over the last 12 years will disappear once the coalition troops withdraw. These are genuine fears, especially as the Afghan government attempts to reach a peace settlement with the Taliban. However, over the past decade, Afghan women have gained the confidence to organize themselves and fight for their own rights. For example, when the Afghan government wanted to take control of shelters for battered women in 2011, female activists successfully fought back. This was a unique victory for Afghan women, who could never have raised their voices under the Taliban, let alone protest.
Also, using local media and support networks across the country, women's rights activists have brought national and international attention to domestic cases of violence against women that have shocked the Afghan public. In December 2011, for example, local media extensively covered the story of Sahar Gul, an Afghan girl who had been brutally tortured for months by members of her husband's family. First reported by local female journalists, it was one of the first cases that allowed the Afghan public to see the level and extent of violence against women in their country. Had the Taliban still been in power, Sahar Gul and the brave female reporters who covered her story would have been quietly suffering behind their all-enveloping burqas. But this is no longer the case. Even though there are still many cases like Sahar Gul's which go unreported, extensive coverage by the local media and courageous Afghan reporters are gradually raising awareness about domestic violence and women's rights in the country.
This is not to say the suffering of Afghan women has ended since the arrival of coalition forces. What is different though is that now Afghan women have at least a fighting chance to protect the achievements they have made over the last 12 years. For many leading Afghan rights activists, fighting for women's rights is more than a battle for equality. It's a fight to ensure the gains they have made since 2001 never again disappear in the alleys of a Taliban-governed country.
Some analysts have also pointed to the pervasive presence of former mujahedeen warlords in the government, as well as the power and wealth they have accumulated over the last 12 years as signs of a potential political resurgence. A flurry of foreign press reports have even suggested the warlords are re-arming themselves and waiting for international troops to leave before they go back to waging wars against each other. For example, Ismael Khan, a powerful warlord from the wealthy province of Herat, was reported to have urged his followers to "coordinate and reactivate their networks" and ready themselves for the upcoming civil war.
What many of these outlets failed to mention, however, is that Khan was removed from his traditional seat of power seven years ago when President Hamid Karzai appointed him Minister of Water and Energy. Khan, who is believed to be around 70 years old, does have influence in Western Afghanistan but his once-feared militia members were disarmed in the mid-2000s. It would take substantial resources to re-arm them, and he cannot justify this rearmament if there is already a national army operating across Afghanistan. Khan may be boasting about his influence in his calls for rearmament, but he also understands there has been a generational shift which is not necessarily in his favor.
This is not to say that the warlords have lost all of their leverage in Afghan society. Ethnic grievances and traditional tribal patronage network systems still exist in Afghanistan, and tensions remain high in light of growing uncertainty about 2014. However, there is a new outlet that allows these tensions to be addressed: local Afghan media.
Tolo TV, for example, a well-known local station in the country, aired a report last January which implicated the three major so-called warlords -- Governor Noor Mohammad Atta of Balkh province, Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Hezbi Wahdat leader Mohammad Mohaqiq -- of being involved in the embezzlement of millions of dollars in revenues from a major land port in northern Afghanistan. The report noted that the three men were "gleaning personal benefits from the Hairatan region's income."
In the past, such reports would have caused violent reactions from these men and could have even led to the death of the reporter. However, instead of staging an armed raid or an assassination, they took to the airwaves to defend themselves and there was no violent reaction from any of them. Even those warlords involved in the armed insurgency have recognized the growing influence of the local media.
Some of them, like the infamous warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose militant group Hezb-e Islami once assassinated a BBC reporter, has given interviews from his hiding place to a select number of local outlets in the hope of rebuilding his image. But Hekmatyar and other warlords are finding it increasingly difficult to connect with larger swaths of the Afghan population, namely because most reporters and media workers in Afghanistan are quite young and grew up in a very different age, with values that are a stark contrast to the traditional views of the aging warlords. In fact, Afghans under the age of 25 make up almost 70 percent of the population, and are more likely to remember the atrocities committed by the warlords than the battles waged against the Soviets. This new generation is also more likely to connect with their friends on Facebook than to find themselves captivated with calls of war by warlords.
The Taliban and other insurgent groups have also failed to make their usual talking points gain attention in the local media. This is primarily because their vision of a post-2014 Afghanistan is radically different from what the majority of the public wants to see. Nader Nadery, a famed Afghan human rights activist, recently highlighted this fact in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. Having met with the Taliban delegation at a meeting in France in December 2012, Nadery wrote: "The gap between the perceptions of the Taliban and the rest of the participants was stark."
But the Taliban have learned that staging spectacular attacks on Kabul and other major cities in Afghanistan gives them plenty of international media coverage instead. Such attacks achieve little in terms of military significance, but they confirm the narrative that the Taliban are "at the gates of Kabul." As a journalist friend once commented, such attacks throw cold water on reports concerning positive developments in Afghanistan. The insurgents know this and they have masterfully chosen their targets to hit the heart of major economic and diplomatic hubs, something that reaffirms this inaccurate view of inevitable doom. In contrast, the improving conduct of Afghan security forces and police units in repelling these attacks is often given little or no coverage in the foreign press.
For many Afghans, the Taliban's mass suicide attacks and roadside bombs, which are the two biggest killers of civilians, represent nothing but the militants' attempts to spread fear and kill their way back to power, something very unlikely now and in the future. In post-2014 Afghanistan, Taliban militants and terrorist groups like the Haqqani Network may continue to stage suicide attacks on government facilities and major population centers but this will not indicate the beginning of a civil war. If the United States is unable to stop Mexican drug lords from spreading violence into some southern U.S. cities, nobody should expect the Afghan government to end attacks by Taliban militants who operate from safe havens in Pakistan.
It is true that Afghanistan may continue to face an assortment of issues, including corruption, ethnic rivalries, regional power struggles, poppy cultivation, and a weak economy, for some time beyond 2014. But with some sort of democratic continuity and a peaceful political transition, as well as continued international support -- especially from the United States -- for the growing civil society and security forces, Afghanistan can address these issues.
Ahmad Shafi is an Afghan journalist and a former producer for National Public Radio.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
When citizens of NATO allies look at the record of failure of military interventions in Afghanistan over the past century-and-a-half, they may be tempted to ask: "What chance of success does NATO have?" People should realize, however, that comparing the present-day stabilization mission to past military adventures is not appropriate.
Past foreign involvements in Afghanistan-including those of the British and Russian Empires in the 19th century, and, more recently, the Soviet Union in the late 20th century-were motivated by imperial and ideological competition. Those powers were not striving to build a stable, democratic and self-reliant society. And they certainly signed nothing like the Afghanistan Compact or the number of strategic partnership agreements that NATO member states have with the country.
Today, more than 40 nations are working together to stabilize Afghanistan and consolidate its new democracy. This truly international endeavor enjoys the overwhelming support of Afghans, who constitute an important strategic asset in the fight to contain terrorism. Thus, it is clear that NATO is in Afghanistan for different reasons altogether, including the national security of its member states. One cannot deny the real security risk NATO allies will face if Afghanistan's stabilization efforts fail and the country once more becomes the domain of terrorists, criminals, and drug traffickers, as it was under the Taliban.
We know from 9/11 and other terrorist attacks that threats to global security are increasingly transnational in nature. Non-state actors are more dangerous today than state actors were during the Cold War when security threats primarily came from interstate hostilities centered on the ideological differences between the members of the Warsaw Pact and NATO.
Third World proxy conflicts characterized the Cold War between the two ideological blocs for more than four decades, and Afghanistan featured as one of the main Cold War theaters from 1979 to 1989. However, with the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism at the end of the 80s, NATO's Cold War role ended.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks were a tragic reminder to NATO members that despite the demise of Communism, there were still many threats posed to the West by radical forces, threats that represented a dark side of the new world order shaped by globalization, and posed a direct challenge to NATO itself.
It is generally agreed that premature disengagement from countries like Afghanistan, and a failure to recognize the rising threat of terrorism, eventually contributed to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Securing Afghanistan now and beyond 2014 is one of NATO's most important post-Cold War tasks-its raison d'être in a way-which must be strongly reaffirmed in the Brussels defense ministerial meeting this week. A firm commitment by the NATO allies to fighting and defeating the Taliban wherever they find safe sanctuaries and institutional support is the key to winning the war in Afghanistan.
In addition, NATO allies must commit to a robust program of training, equipping, and maintaining Afghanistan's national security forces (ANSF). The annual cost of afghanizing the security sector pales before NATO's yearly spending of more than $100 billion on their own military operations in Afghanistan. The staggering difference in cost-effectiveness between NATO and ANSF aside, it is Afghans' foremost duty to defend their country against any external aggression, including terrorism and organized crime. And they're already doing so, as they lead 80 percent of all military operations and provide protection for 90 percent of the Afghan population across the country.
In the meantime, NATO allies must firmly commit to the long-term implementation of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, which in many ways resembles the Marshall Plan in vision and scope. NATO allies understand that Europe could not have rebuilt on its own in the aftermath of the Second World War, under the increasing threat posed by the former Soviet Union, without external aid. Thanks in large measure to the Marshall Plan, war-ravaged Europe was able to rebuild rapidly, and today it is hard to believe that the previous century's two devastating world wars were fought primarily on European soil.
The success of the Marshall Plan in Europe in the 20th Century is an excellent reminder for the NATO allies in the 21st century that when nations come to each other's aid with firm and full commitment, no force-no matter how formidable-can prevent their victory if they stand together until the job is done.
Afghans have contributed significantly to the fight against terrorism and organized crime, two of the most dangerous threats to global security. Much remains to be done on their part to combat militancy, improve good governance and rule of law, and stimulate the economy, but a resolute NATO, armed with requisite security and development resources to deliver on its core mission, will be critical to securing Afghanistan. Afghans look forward to finding a strong and determined partner in the NATO alliance in the years ahead, a partner who can help finish the job started by the international community twelve years ago.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan's deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan's new government takes office this week, and optimism is in the air.
Pundits point to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz's (PML-N) resounding election victory on May 11, and suggest it will use this mandate to implement critically necessary policy reforms. Presumptive prime minister Nawaz Sharif, observers insist, is more mellow and mature than he was during his previous terms as prime minister. They cite his post-election conciliatory moves-from a visit to the hospital bed of political rival Imran Khan to an invitation to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to attend Sharif's swearing-in ceremony.
Some of this optimism is warranted. But let's be realistic: despite Pakistan's political transition, the nation's troubling structural realities-from reform-resistant vested interests to state-sponsored support for militancy-remain entrenched. We should therefore keep our expectations in check, and hope for relatively modest achievements from Islamabad's new leadership. These include improving the economy, stabilizing civil-military ties, and maintaining adequate relations with India and the United States. Success, however, will hinge on four unpredictable factors.
Wildcard #1: Tax reform
Sharif appears determined to address Pakistan's sinking economy and debt-driven energy crisis. The PML-N's election manifesto depicts "economic revival" as a chief concern, and in recent days PML-N officials have said they hope to phase out costly subsidies and institute energy pricing reforms.
The question, however, is if the party can truly engineer an economic recovery. The answer will depend on Pakistan's ability to secure new revenue sources-and expanding the national tax base is a much-needed step (according to one recent report, only 768,000 Pakistanis-0.57 percent of the population-paid income tax last year).
Given its dire economic straits, Pakistan is likely to request a fresh loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-and the IMF will probably condition future lending on tax reform. How much political capital is Sharif willing to expend to produce this long-elusive outcome? How hard will Sharif, who has made a fortune in the sugar industry, push back against entrenched agricultural interests that resist tax reform?
Recent comments by Sartaj Aziz, a former finance minister and top PML-N official, raise additional questions. Aziz said the PML-N isn't yet ready to approach the IMF, and will instead focus on its own economic recovery efforts. Optimists may interpret this to mean the government will use the next few months to implement reforms before going to the Fund. Pessimists, however, may conclude that Islamabad simply wants to go it alone-a troubling prospect for a country with dwindling reserves that, if needed, could cover only five weeks of imports.
Wildcard #2: Pervez Musharraf
The man who overthrew Sharif in a 1999 military coup is now under house arrest outside Islamabad. What Sharif chooses to do with Musharraf will help shape the trajectory of the premier's volatile relationship with the institution that once ousted him.
In 1997, Sharif won an election by a wide margin-and promptly used this mandate to challenge the military's authority. Some may fear he'll use his latest large mandate to again undercut the military-not necessarily by challenging its authority directly, but by taking a sharply anti-military position on a key policy issue. One possibility could be pushing for more reconciliation with India than the military is willing to sanction.
However, early indications suggest the two sides are ready to bury the hatchet. Sharif is blaming Musharraf personally, not the military as a whole, for the events of 1999. One week after the election, Sharif held a three-hour meeting with General Ashfaq Kayani-and the army chief pledged full cooperation on all of the issues that Sharif wants to tackle. Soon thereafter, the Finance Ministry released budgetary projections for the next fiscal year. Strikingly, defense services funding allocations were 15 percent higher than those in this year's budget.
So does this all portend smooth sailing for civil-military relations? Not necessarily. The army wants Musharraf out of Pakistan, and Sharif has reportedly informed Kayani that he'd like Musharraf gone before taking office. However, the PML-N announced last week that it plans to try Musharraf for treason-a prospect that would anger the army, which is already displeased about its former leader's detention. It's still possible a deal will be brokered that sends Musharraf back into exile-and perhaps one is already in the works: This week, rumors abounded that he will visit his ailing mother in Dubai. Yet if a trial does take place, Sharif's relations with the military could again be plunged into crisis.
Wildcard #3: Extremism in Punjab
Militancy in Pakistan's most populous province threatens prospects for better ties with India-and the economic benefits that would arise from rapprochement.
Sharif desires improved relations with New Delhi-and trade normalization is a prime objective. Economists estimate that normalization would increase bilateral trade from less than $3 billion to $40 billion. It would also bring much-needed relief to Pakistan's free-falling, revenue-starved economy by placing at Pakistan's disposal, literally next door, one of the world's largest and fastest-growing markets.
Such a tantalizing vision, however, could be shattered by militancy in Punjab. This province, which borders India, is the PML-N's stronghold-and a bastion for anti-India militant groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which orchestrated the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Some, like Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), are based in southern Punjab. Others, like Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen, have a strong presence in Rawalpindi, the city that hosts Pakistan's military headquarters. LeT leader Hafiz Saeed lives free in Lahore.
Neither Sharif nor his brother Shahbaz-the last chief minister of Punjab's provincial government, which the PML-N has run for years-has dealt with this problem. During the recent election season, the PML-N chose cooperation over confrontation. Punjab's law minister campaigned with the leader of one sectarian extremist group, while rumors abounded of a PML-N electoral alliance with another.
Encouragingly, Sharif promises to be tough on anti-India militants-he has vowed to ban speeches that "incite jihad" against India, and specifically singled out Saeed's. Yet questions remain about his actual willingness to target these actors (some Indian analysts allege-without elaboration-family "links" to the LeT), much less his ability to do so (Pakistan's security establishment has long regarded these anti-India groups as strategic assets). Ultimately, Sharif's ability to boost ties with India will depend on the extent to which he confronts the militants who wish to destroy it.
Wildcard #4: The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP)
This province, which abuts the militancy-ravaged tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, will be governed by Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The PTI stridently opposes U.S. drone strikes, and favors non-military solutions to extremism, including peace negotiations with the Pakistan Taliban (TTP). The PTI's ability to stabilize this volatile region, just across the border from where the United States is fighting a war, will bear heavily on Islamabad's relations with Washington.
Sharif's relations with the United States have been relatively friendly since the 1990s, when as premier he worked closely with Bill Clinton (photographs of the two leaders adorn the walls of Sharif's Lahore mansion). Though Sharif's campaign rhetoric featured sharp criticism of drones and the U.S. war on terror, his post-election comments about Washington have been cordial. Last week, during an appearance with James Dobbins, the new U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sharif said the two nations would work "in complete cooperation to curb terrorism."
KP's PTI-led government, however, could jeopardize this goodwill. If it engages the TTP, the latter could enjoy more freedom of movement in KP-affording it greater opportunities to target the NATO supply vehicles that pass through the province, and to intensify its cross-border attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Such a prospect would pose a conundrum for Sharif, who wants a workable relationship with Washington yet also shares the PTI's desire to talk to the Taliban. Would Sharif, to protect his relations with Washington, pressure the PTI to change course? Or would he honor the party's engage-the-TTP position, and throw his support behind the PTI?
Either way, the PTI will be tested immediately. Last week, after the TTP's top deputy was killed in a drone strike, the organization withdrew its offer of talks with Islamabad and threatened new attacks. The PTI's response to stepped-up violence will have major ramifications for American efforts in Afghanistan-and also for Pakistan, which receives billions of dollars of U.S. aid.
There's reason to believe Pakistan's new government can kickstart the economy, peacefully coexist with the military, improve relations with New Delhi, and cooperate with Washington. Yet it's important to acknowledge the spoilers that could sabotage each of these prospective success stories. Pakistan, after all, remains a troubled country where soaring hopes are often sorely dashed.
Ultimately, by keeping our expectations about Islamabad's new leadership in check, we set ourselves up for less disappointment-while also allowing for the possibility of being pleasantly surprised.
Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is available at email@example.com or on Twitter @michaelkugelman.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Perhaps confirming the deep pessimism amongst the Afghan people about the fairness and transparency of Afghanistan's 2014 presidential elections, there is a lot of political jockeying underway that appears aimed at pre-engineering its result.
The date for the presidential election has been set by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) for April 5th, 2014. The announcement of a specific Election Day was meant to provide a measure of clarity for Afghans on the future of their government, and raise the public's confidence in the upcoming election. But uncertainty still surrounds the potential presidential candidates as well how the election is to be held.
A group of prominent individuals has emerged, who call themselves the "national consensus" advocates and seek to select from amongst themselves the next electable candidate. This group consists primarily of former and current government officials, as well as leaders of the opposition political parties. The list includes, among others: former interior ministers Ali Ahmad Jalali, Hanif Atmar and Mohammad Yunus Qanooni; current Minister of Commerce and Industry Dr. Anwar ul Haq Ahadi the former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Zalmai Khalilzad; current Head of the Transition Process Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai; Head of Wahdat Party Mohammad Mohaqiq, President Karzai's governance advisor Ghulam Jilani Popal; governor of Balkh Province Atta Mohammad Noor; Minister of Finance Hazrat Omer Zakhilwal; and Senator Ehsan Bayat.
In a country where politics-of-patronage is dominant, the concept of reaching consensus on such a vital and sensitive matter as the next president is a mirage. Historically, Afghan political leaders -whether part of the regime or the opposition - have been fragmented and have rarely agreed on a common political platform on which to unite. The "national consensus" advocates are faced with a similar impasse. It is unlikely that strong candidates will comply and sacrifice their candidacy if they are not chosen by this group, although they have all claimed to be ready to give up their individual ambitions and appetite for the country's top job in order to come to a broad-based agreement on a single candidate. "We are trying to reach a consensus on a candidate through this mechanism, but at the same time we are encouraging other politicians to unite behind our candidate," said an advocate to Waheed Omar, President Karzai's former Spokesman.
Nevertheless, some of these advocates for national consensus believe that through this process, they might surface as the candidate of choice, and may not have to face a strong opposition during the election campaign that is scheduled to kick off late this year. But most of the ‘national consensus' front-runners face a lack of trust from the public due to their political affiliations and past loyalties, as well as some allegations of criminal activity and corruption. For example: individuals like Mohammad Yunnus Qanooni, Mohammad Mohaqiq and Atta Mohammad Noor have been labelled warlords, while Mohammad Hanif Atmar is known for his affiliation with former communist groups. Potential candidates Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Ali Ahmad Jalali and Zalmai Khalilzad have been criticized for being technocrats with dual citizenship and little mainstream support.
It is clear that President Karzai and some other members of his inside circle do possess significant political leverage at this point, but not to the extent that they will be able to discourage other candidates from declaring their candidacy. The fact that President Karzai is an outgoing president and may not have the degree of influence he had back in 2009 is interpreted by some potentially strong candidates as a signal that they should go ahead and declare their candidacy, form campaign teams, and publicize their political platforms. They have recognized that waiting for Karzai's approval might not pay off. But the reality is that no one expects the President to be completely hands-off with regard to elections, as his own survival could depend on who is going to be his successor. Historically, it has often been the case that rulers of Afghanistan meet a grisly end when they fall from power.
Some potential candidates are still waiting for President Karzai's green light in order to kick off their election campaign, in the belief that his support and resources will increase their chances. And while President Karzai is aware of his key role in the upcoming election, he is using the time he has left in office to further boost his authority and impose his candidate of choice, who will carry on his legacy and who is expected to maintain a degree of loyalty to him. Last month, President Karzai's younger brother Mahmoud Karzai told Reuters that their older brother Qayum Karzai is planning to make an "independent" run for president in 2014, though it remains unclear whether the current president will actively support him.
Although conspiracy theories abound that Karzai may wish to remain in power post 2014, many analysts agree that he wouldn't risk his political legacy by making such an irrational decision. "President Karzai will not jeopardize his legacy and the stability of Afghanistan by impeding elections or favor alternatives to election," said a close member of President Karzia's inner circle on condition of anonymity. Notwithstanding the outcome of the so-called ‘national consensus' effort promoted by some Afghan politicians, the free and fair nature of elections will determine the faith that Afghans have in the next President of Afghanistan. But it is widely anticipated that the decision - if any - of the national consensus advocates, due in September 2013, could be a pre-engineered selection of the future president, and the ‘election' merely an instrument for its legitimacy.
Hamid M. Saboory is a political analyst, former employee of the Afghan National Security Council, and a founding member of the Kabul- based think tank Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness(A3).
S. SABAWOON/AFP/Getty Images
As of this year, Afghanistan has experienced ten years of stabilization intervention, but what is there to show for it? Marked by massive expenditure with little to no accountability, and often marred by waste, stabilization in Afghanistan started out with arguably honorable aims. However, as troops prepare to leave in 2014, what legacy will be left behind?
Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) began with perhaps the best of intentions: to fill the vacuum of law and order left by the fall of the Taliban and undertake reconstruction, badly needed in a country devastated by three decades of conflict. The security situation was perceived to be relatively benign, with the major threats being criminals and warlords seeking to reassert power.
PRTs did some positive work, often acting as the only authority in a security vacuum, and were appreciated, at least early on, by Afghans. They were no substitute, however, for the effective governance and security required. PRTs' predominantly military staff received little to no training, lacked the technical skills required to carry out development work and focused more on short term quick impact projects instead of the long term state-and-peace-building work that was so badly needed. Rather than seeking to build Afghan capacity - a central component of their mandate - they often worked around the government. The PRTs also created winners and losers, supporting local strongmen or funneling money through often corrupt construction companies.
Despite early U.S. government acknowledgement of these problems, PRTs expanded rapidly, led by a multitude of different nations that were often unable to effectively coordinate amongst each another. In 2008, the US Congress described the situation as one with "no clear definition of the PRT mission, no concept of operations or doctrine, no standard operating procedures."
As insecurity spread, the dual security and reconstruction roles of PRTs became increasingly schizophrenic. One incident in Ghazni province in 2004 saw PRT officials offering to build a well for villagers just weeks after they had fired rockets into the very same village killing nine children. Unsurprisingly, residents were hardly consoled and Afghan goodwill for the PRTs was quickly eroded.
But the amount of money available for military-led development continued to increase. In 2009, the US Army published the Commanders' Guide to Money as a Weapons System, which defined aid as "a nonlethal weapon" to be utilised to "win the hearts and minds of the indigenous population to facilitate defeating the insurgents." Aid devoted to these objectives rapidly increased: annual funding for the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), the primary U.S. PRT funding stream, rose from $200m in 2007 to $1bn in 2010.
No centralised, comprehensive records appear to have been kept on the PRTs, either within the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) or the Afghan government, and rarely even within PRTs. When auditors found CERP project files incomplete or non-existent in 2009, CERP project managers told US auditors that their focus "was on obligating funds for projects rather than monitoring their implementation." Unsurprisingly there has been no comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of CERP-funded programmes; the most thorough examination is a 2011 SIGAR audit of CERP programming in the insecure eastern province of Laghman. It's a harrowing read. Of the $53m CERP funds allocated to the PRT between 2008 and 2011, 92% (or $49.2m) was dedicated to projects found by SIGAR to be "at risk or have questionable outcomes." Funds were not managed in accordance with standard operating procedures, which were finally established in 2009, and none of the 69 projects had sufficient documentation to track outcomes. Again and again, the audit found the Afghan government unable to take over PRT projects.
PRTs were not the only instrument of stabilization. Between 2003 and 2012, USAID obligated $1.1bn in stabilization funding to for-profit contractors but such projects fared no better. One example is USAID's ‘flagship counterinsurgency program' the Local Government and Community Development Programme (LGCD). The budget and timelines for the $400m, five-year project mushroomed despite questionable early evaluation findings and the fact that over half of LGCD's expenditures were on staff costs and security. USAID officials were unable to visit several sites because it was too dangerous. As for its impact, the USAID Inspector-General reported ‘the project's overall success seemed highly questionable.'
Part of the problem is that the goals of stabilization in Afghanistan were never comprehensively, consistently or clearly articulated. Stabilization works on the assumption that conflicts are fuelled by grievances about poverty or neglect, and that development projects that improve governance, opportunities and services can ‘stabilize' conflict situations. But evidence is lacking or discouraging. A 2011 Tufts university study found while there was some evidence some stabilization interventions can work in the short term, there is little evidence of long term security gains and much more indicating a tendency to create local conflict and ‘perverse incentives' to maintain insecurity.
In an world where aid agencies are required to prove their ‘value for money' and aid-receiving governments are pressured to become fully transparent, the lack of systematic, government-led push for accountability for the multi-billion dollar investments is hypocritical and irresponsible - and speaks to an ideological unwillingness to address the problems and pitfalls of stabilization approaches.
The lack of interest in documenting the impact of the stabilization efforts - both what works and what doesn't - does not bode well for the rest of the world. As global focus turns to other complex emergencies in Mali, Yemen and Somalia, stabilization is increasingly the approach of choice. Without recognizing systematic problems, stabilization interventions are unlikely to improve and begin to fulfill their lofty goals. After the troop drawdown in Afghanistan next year, perhaps we'll have a better idea of the true legacy of stabilization. But for now, the future looks worryingly unstable.
Ashley Jackson is a Research Fellow in the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute. Before joining ODI she worked for several years in Afghanistan with the United Nations and Oxfam.
Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images