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.
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Afghanistan stands at a crossroads. The reputation of our political leadership is under suspicion. Tens of millions of dollars are said to have been received illegally from intelligence agencies of both friends and foes. People are losing faith in the state and the prospects of democracy. The year 2014 looms large in everyone's mind, as does the Taliban's possible reemergence as a real power.
With the April 2014 presidential elections approaching, people around the world are wondering where exactly Afghanistan is headed. Has the threat of al-Qaeda really been eradicated as President Barack Obama recently announced? Is the war in Afghanistan really over? If so, is it over for Afghans, or just the international community?
Few of the promised counterterrorism and state building efforts have been delivered. In all 34 provinces of Afghanistan there are still acts of war and terrorism being committed - in some places incidents occur daily, in others weekly or monthly. Even our highway system has yet to be secured. No one is free to travel anywhere without at least some fear they will encounter the Taliban. Afghans live in fear of everything from targeted killings to suicide attacks and other forms terrorism. Our sisters and daughters have to live in fear that they will be attacked while doing something as mundane and Islamic as attending school.
Meanwhile, our politics are a mess. Our relationship with the United States and their NATO allies has deteriorated to the point where President Hamid Karzai himself is now referring to Afghanistan as a graveyard of empires, and accusing the United States and its allies of supporting rather than routing the Taliban in order to destabilize Afghanistan.
At the same time, Washington and its friends are leaking controversial details about how exactly they have been propping up President Karzai. Yes, the U.S. is now saying, the CIA is funding in unaccounted-for cash payments Karzai's inner circle.
Aside from the non-existent national security and troubled foreign policy, Afghanistan is also facing the possibility of an economic meltdown. Imagine what will happen to our aid-dependent and U.S.-contract-centric economy when the United States withdraws not just the bulk of its troops but its funds as well.
How is Afghanistan going to transition from an economy that has received hundreds of billions of dollars over the past decade-plus of war? What are the tens of thousands of Afghan companies that have come up as a result of this level of funding going to do then? Not to mention the Afghans who work for the many-times-more international companies, or the 3,000 NGOs that have sprung up during this international campaign that is about to end. If we think today's Afghanistan has an unsustainably high rate of unemployment, what will tomorrow's Afghanistan look like when all this funding ceases?
In a country with thirteen million jobless, most of whom are under twenty-five years old, and a raging insurgency with its own foreign sources of funds, training camps, intelligence and strategic support base, it's hard to imagine a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.
To survive as a nation-state resembling anything like the state we envisioned in Bonn in 2001, we have two main solutions.
First, we need to have a stable transfer of power in the form of the 2014 presidential elections. If our political system is too fragile to deliver even that bare minimum, we have much to fear from the still-raging insurgency. And we cannot have a stable transfer of power if all we do is reinstate President Karzai. Presidents for life are not the beacons of the democracy we envisioned in 2001.
In terms of domestic politics and foreign policy we need very specific programs. We need a government that delivers services. We need to change our traditional culture of a master-slave governance model in which civil servants and government officers rule over our people who they see as slaves.
In our foreign policy, we need to build friendships, not just sustain enemies or provide a battlefield for outside conflicts. The global order is transforming into a multi-polar one, we need to build on our already budding friendship with important regional players in the region such as India and we need to salvage what we can from our relationship with the United States, both of which are becoming our strategic allies.
To address our security dilemmas and challenges, we need a combination of solutions framed as a grand strategy rather than only tactical military or reconciliation ones. With the reconciliation strategy the only one being considered as a means to dealing with the insurgents, the Afghan government and the international community are using a risky black and white model. Instead we need to see reconciliation as a sub-tool in a broader political strategy for the stabilization of Afghanistan. We need to recognize that insurgencies take time and need strategic patience to combat -- every insurgency, from those fought in El Salvador to Central Asia, has taught us that. We need to oppose the Taliban not just militarily but by building public confidence through service delivery and good governance; the strengthening and effective functioning of our security establishment; support to our economic sectors; and the reconciliation and reintegration efforts already begun by NATO's counterinsurgency strategy.
And finally, we need to build our economy. We need to follow models of leadership such as General Park's of South Korea, or South Africa after apartheid. And to begin this process the first thing we need to do is get rid of politicians who see their office as the best job Afghanistan has to offer.
2013 is the year that Afghans will make a decision. Either we put ourselves on the path to a prosperous and ideal Afghanistan or we will be back on the path of war and isolation, a country sourced for strategic threats to international security.
Mohammad Arif Rahmani is a member of Central Audit and Rule of Law Committee of Lower House of Afghanistan's parliament.
When Amb. James Dobbins arrives at the ground-floor offices of the State Department's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan he will find a depleted staff, a moribund peace process and a mandate riddled with colossal diplomatic challenges. Secretary of State John Kerry called today's state of affairs a "pivotal moment" for the two nations. But it is also a critical moment for U.S. involvement in ending the conflict President Barack Obama once called the war "that we have to win" and now wants only to "responsibly" wind down.
Dobbins is a veteran of uphill assignments. He oversaw the return of the American flag over a newly reopened U.S. Embassy in Kabul in 2001. In addition to Afghanistan, he has served in Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia. Not exactly a list of luxe diplomatic posts.
As Dobbins prepares to assume his post on 23rd St, a series of open questions await his attention. Three of the biggest are below.
1) Troops: Just how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014? That question remains unanswered as the United States continues to negotiate an agreement with Afghanistan on the shape of the U.S. military presence post-2014. Gen. James Mattis, who most recently served as the commander of U.S. Central Command, is on the record pushing for more than 13,000 troops. Most numbers out of the Pentagon and the White House come in at less than that. The State Department's Robert Blake noted recently that "we are still in the process of thinking through what our final military presence will be in Afghanistan after the end of the transition at the end of 2014." Exactly when that will be and what shape it will take remains to be seen.
Also an open question: how many Afghan troops will be needed? And how many will be funded? Those two numbers may well end up being different. And the latter should be known sooner rather than later.
2) Peace process: Right now there is not one of substance to speak of. What shape might one take? The window for action is rapidly closing as frustration between Pakistan and Afghanistan remains very much alive, with Afghanistan arguing that Pakistan looks favorably on Afghan instability. Will Afghanistan and Pakistan agree to agree on conditions for talks? And what role will the Americans take? Sec. Kerry met last month in Belgium with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and vowed to "under-promise but deliver" as the sides "continue a very specific dialogue on both the political track as well as the security track." What, if anything, the dialed-down dialog yields will be watched carefully as nearly all sides agree that a diplomatic solution - one in which human rights are not made the price of peace - is the lone shot at a lasting and durable peace.
3) Transition: whither and at what pace will security, political and economic transitions continue? So far, the economic transition has been bolstered by GDP numbers that have been better than expected. As the World Bank noted, "rapid economic growth" has been accompanied by "relatively low inflation." But the government is overwhelmingly dependent on foreign coffers for its funding -- civilian aid alone is "estimated at more than US$6 billion a year, or nearly 40 percent of GDP" - and as those dollars dry up, the questions of stability and security arise immediately. A recent IMF report mentioned by the New York Times notes that tax evasion, corruption and declining growth all mean that the government will find it tough to pay even half of its bills this year. Stories of graft and CIA-filled slush funds do not lead to greater confidence in the Afghan government from either the American public paying for it or the Afghan people who will pay the price of chaos and a political power vacuum.
These are only the most pressing of a rash of questions sure to occupy Amb. Dobbins on Day One. Fortunately for both Sec. Kerry and Amb. Dobbins, the SRAP position does not require Senate confirmation, so they can get down to work quickly - as they must. The U.S. is speeding toward the end of the NATO combat mission, and both diplomats will soon be hard-pressed to find answers.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
As the United States continues to withdraw troops and materiel from Afghanistan, the rhetoric from President Hamid Karzai's administration wavers between being fairly pro-American and caustically anti-American, and speculation about reconciliatory negotiations with the Taliban and other insurgent groups abound, it is difficult to remain optimistic about the durability of institutions America has helped build in Afghanistan. However, there is one institution that stands out amongst its peers as a clear success story.
Southwest of Kabul's beautiful Babur Gardens, home of the Mughal Empire founder's tomb, a nondescript maroon door is set back into cream blast walls. Although they look no different than the other concrete walls surrounding compounds along the main road to the battered Darul Aman palace, what happens inside those walls is changing the minds and lives of individuals from all over the country who have the opportunity to attend. Just over the hill from the center of Kabul and past the old city wall, the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) may be on the outskirts of the capital city, but it is quickly sinking roots into the town and making connections around the country.
It is changing the way that Afghans view and access higher education. Mrs. Sultana Hakimi, wife of Afghan ambassador to the United States Eklil Ahmad Hakimi, spoke of the importance of the university's activities when she observed that, "With such a dynamic society [in which] 60 percent is under the age of 20, Afghanistan will rely heavily on the emerging generations." These young Afghans have no small task ahead of them, even if they seek only to restore their country to a level of stability and security similar to that it last enjoyed in the mid twentieth century.
Since it opened in 2006 with an initial enrollment of 53 students, AUAF has had great success.
AUAF graduated its first class in 2011 and currently has just under a thousand undergraduate students, with the student body nearly doubling during seasonal classes that focus on adult education programs. These adult education programs focus on teaching the GIRoA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) ministry staff, which dovetails with other U.S Government efforts to build professional capacity across Afghanistan's administrative bodies.
The university's campus is housed in a series of buildings that was originally constructed as the American International School of Kabul from the mid-1960s through the late 1970s, and the campus has long been the center of learning, including the brief period during which it served
as the Soviet intelligence headquarters during their occupation of Afghanistan through the 1980s. The five-acre campus is currently near its maximum capacity of one thousand undergraduate students, and houses administrative offices, classrooms, science and information technology (IT) labs, a teleconferencing suite, athletic facilities, and a state-of-the-art library that receives Western publications a mere two weeks after their official release.
Across the road is another 80 acres-recently acquired by the university-which will accommodate a women's center and another IT center, as well as staff and faculty housing. The International Center for Afghan Women's Economic Development, the first center of its kind to facilitate both international and Afghan public and private sector efforts to advance the role of women in the economic stabilization of the country, is only the first of many new resources planned for student use on the new campus. It is slated to open just 13 months after groundbreaking, demonstrating an unheard of rate of construction for a complex of that size pretty much anywhere in the world, let alone in the middle of a conflict zone.
Said Jawad, former Afghan Ambassador to the United States and President of the Foundation for Afghanistan, remarked of the center that, "True economic prosperity and peace can only come from harnessing the myriad talents and courage of Afghan women... the lessons we have learned in the last decade teach us to avoid duplication of efforts but, rather, be force multipliers." Like many other supporters of the AUAF, the Foundation for Afghanistan stands ready to connect rural and urban women and their respective projects with the work of the university and its new women's center. The center will open on May 25, 2013, in conjunction with the graduation of AUAF's third undergraduate class and first cohort of business school students.
Needless to say, the security situation in Kabul is a concern for the students, faculty, and staff of AUAF. In October 2011, a massive suicide car bomb was driven into a military shuttle bus just beyond the gates of the university. The attack took 13 American lives, as well as those of at least half a dozen bystanders. That event was the second largest single loss of American lives since the war began, behind only the tragic helicopter crash that killed 30 U.S. troops a few short months earlier.
As Matt Trevithick-who worked for two and a half years as the university's Media Relations Manager-remarked, "We don't forget where we are, [and we] provide the safest environment we can." Visitors are screened prior to entry through the main gate, and are vetted and searched thoroughly before proceeding through metal detectors to the campus grounds. Armed guards keep watch over the campus and quickly blend away into the sense of normalcy that blankets the university's goings-on.
Within the perimeter of the blast walls is a safe zone, and at the heart of the campus is a grass quad where students are free to act as they like and voice their own thoughts. Building a community in which students feel comfortable engaging in free discourse is important to the university's academic environment, and plays a foundational role in building a strong civil society that students will export outside the university's walls following their graduation.
Aspects of pedagogy and thought that are central to many Western educational experiences can prove to be revelatory to new students at AUAF. Given Afghanistan's highly hierarchical social structure where elders make almost all of the most important decisions, the idea that it is the young students' responsibility to take ownership of fixing the country's problems is often intriguing to them. As Trevithick observed, "We're always telling them to ‘Identify the problem, propose a solution, and try to fix it.' Amazingly, students will come up to staff and professors here later and let us know that they have never been told this before."
In addition to exporting knowledge to villages far from the capital city, the university offers a rare
forum in which individuals from across the country can openly discuss events and debate ideas. As Trevithick explained, "We're the only school in Afghanistan that has the country's name in our name, and we have students from 33 of the 34 provinces. So, if there's an uprising in, say Ghazni, there's a good chance we have a student from that village that we can ask about it." In a country that is still in the nascent stages of redeveloping its national character, a place like AUAF is pivotal in building shared relationships and common identities.
Former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, who was awarded an honorary degree of humane letters by the university at the Friends of AUAF gala in March of this year at Washington, D.C.'s Museum of Women in the Arts, has said that he is a "strong believer in the power of education to change our world... at its best, education is a great equalizer. It unites us."
The value of education that both Afghans and Americans share is important to remember at times like this, when rhetoric can easily overtake reality. As Mrs. Shamim Jawad, also an AUAF Board of Trustees member (and wife of Amb. Jawad) said of the university's role in advancing Afghan-American relations: "The people of Afghanistan will never forget your sacrifices and count on your continued support and friendship...Afghan people have come a long way in building a peaceful, pluralistic, and prosperous society, and are determined to finish the journey that we have started jointly with you a decade ago. I can assure you that Afghans will never return to the dark days of repression."
The marked success of the independent university blazes a trail for other private entities to assume the risk and reward of pursuing their own ventures. As there is a move from coalition-led projects to Afghan-led initiatives, so too is it time to transition from government-led efforts to private sector-provided services like tertiary education. The university has already proven to be innovative and successful in a number of valuable ways, and its outlook for the future is equally promising.
CBS reporter Lara Logan summed up the university's value at the Friends of AUAF gala succinctly when she remarked, "There's stuff born in those classrooms that can outlast a war." If there is anything that the people of Afghanistan need right now, it's the durability of an education that students can never thereafter be deprived of.
Whitney Grespin/Author Photo
Pakistan's security and economic woes are frequently discussed in policy circles in Washington, D.C. and Islamabad. Little attention, however, is given to the country's youth population which, at a staggering 50 million, comprises more than 25 percent of Pakistan's population (in the United States, youth account for only 13 percent).
When practitioners and pundits speak about Pakistani youth -- defined by the Ministry of Youth Affairs as the population within the age bracket of 15-29 years -- they often depict the demographic as a potential security threat or as a misguided group that is unable to move the country forward.
For instance, when talking about Pakistan's youth population to a global news agency, the United Nations Population Fund Country Representative warned that "If young people do not find their expectations met, their energies may be directed towards undesirable activities, like radicalization." This is a view held by most development practitioners and analysts. However, the declaration of the "International Year of Youth" in 2010-2011, and the October 2012 release of the U.S Agency for International Development's first Policy on Youth in Development reveal a growing international consensus on the importance of youth integration in development initiatives. As a result, the time to pivot the conversation from Pakistani youth as a security threat to them as viable partners is now.
To help prepare the youth in Pakistan to be better leaders, there must be a concentrated effort to create channels that go beyond simply providing a platform to voice concerns. Programs must enable youth leaders to shape and contribute to national development efforts. The United States AmeriCorps program, which offers youth of all backgrounds to serve communities through partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups, is one such example.
If analysts and practitioners continue to adhere to the ongoing negative narrative about youth, which assumes that young Pakistanis are prone to violence, radicalization, or simply disinterest, they block youth's access to positions in political parties, government institutions, and private and public decision-making bodies that build their capacity to effectively lead national development efforts.
This is unfortunate given that close to half of Pakistan's voters are considered youth by Pakistan's government standards. Local youth feel disengaged with the national and provincial policymaking process, as revealed by a recent roundtable on youth participation organized by the Jinnah Institute, an Islamabad-based think tank. The roundtable further noted that when youth--particularly those from rural constituencies--do vote, it is largely along the lines of traditional allegiances and biradari (tribal) affiliations. This is a reality check for pundits who feel that youth as a demographic entity in and of itself will affect change. It will take well-defined policy measures and serious resource allocation to transform the country's youth into a demographic dividend.
One obvious step is greater investment in education and job training for Pakistan's youth. The World Bank's 2007 World Development Report suggested that developing countries which invest in better education, healthcare, and job training for their young people are better equipped to take advantage of their demographic dividend to accelerate economic growth. This is corroborated by a recent report by the Population Reference Bureau, a data-focused international non-profit organization, which states that large numbers of young people can represent great economic potential, but only if families and governments invest in their health and education, and provide them with economic opportunities.
Macro-economic benefits aside, investment in education and job training provide both urban and rural youth with greater options, such as moving to another town, finding alternate and better sources of livelihood, and setting their own values and priorities, which will ultimately influence voting patterns.
A recent United States Institute of Peace paper, "Prospects of Youth Radicalization in Pakistan" highlighted how growing inequality in Pakistan has manifested itself in the high level of underemployment among youth from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Although the labor market has expanded, its growth is not commensurate with the size of the youth cohort. Therefore, a majority of non-elite young graduates can only find relatively blue-collar jobs. Graduates from a vast majority of Pakistan's public sector institutions are simply not considered competitive by Pakistan's private sector firms that seek English-speaking individuals with diverse exposure, a broad knowledge base, and robust analytical ability.
Sobia Nusrat, Manager of Academics and Admission at the Institute for Career and Personal Development, a new organization that specifically aims to equip middle-class university graduates with the skills needed to succeed professionally, states that one of the major challenges faced by the students she and her team work with is their inability to communicate in English, both written and verbal. "Their thinking and problem solving skills are quite weak due to Pakistan's academic institutions' focus on rote learning." She adds that in order to help address this challenge, in addition to greater investment in education and job training, "There is need for more collaboration between the industry and education providers in terms of not only increasing the skills of youth but also linking them to Pakistan's economic needs."
Some government agencies are making an effort to address this issue. The Punjab Government-through its Youth Affairs, Sports, Tourism and Archaeology Department-announced the establishment of the Job Bank-Online under its first-ever youth policy. The portal aims to conduct job market surveys, build a database to inform Punjab's youth about potential openings, and guide educational and vocational training institutes regarding industry trends. Under the new policy, the Department also announced the establishment of the Youth Venture Capital Fund, which will support new business ideas and entrepreneurship amongst young men and women.
Local-level initiatives like this are a welcome approach to a complex, widespread issue. That said, close monitoring and evaluation must be done to measure the Punjab Government's progress in meeting its goals. If effective, there is potential for scaling and replication elsewhere in Pakistan.
And while providing Pakistani youth with meaningful livelihood opportunities is important to national economic growth, parallel efforts must be pursued to develop their soft skills and competencies such as effective communication skills, teamwork, problem solving, and critical thinking, all which will make them more workplace ready and equip them to lead Pakistan's local and national institutions in the future.
Young Pakistani leaders have already launched a large number of promising local programs that work to create social and political awareness among youth, and encourage youth participation in development efforts. That said, many of these organizations are centered around a vague notion of ‘change' and general disillusionment with Pakistani politics, and are largely disconnected from Pakistan's mainstream political parties and government bodies. While the passions of dedicated citizens instill hope in the future of Pakistan, the isolation from policymaking and disconnect from implementing institutions impede their ability to expand and scale. They also hinder the youth leaders' abilities to sustainably build capacity later as policy professionals working within Pakistan's institutional system.
To that end, efforts such as the Youth Parliament Pakistan-established by the local non-profit Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency to educate and train youth in the norms of politics and democracy in the country-are critical and deserve national government and international donor support. Haider A. H. Mullick, a former adjunct fellow at Spearhead Pakistan, a non-partisan think tank, has put forth a few thoughtful recommendations including expanding the voting rights of political parties' youth-wing members and introducing leadership and civic education courses on campuses.
With Pakistan's general election taking place this May, the time for the country's civil society organizations and political parties to begin constructively engaging youth in the campaigning and election process is now. One hopes that the Pakistani youth's professional and civic growth will not be held hostage by the adult populace's failure to recognize their value and role in Pakistan's development.
Maryam Jillani is a youth development specialist at an international non-profit organization in Washington D.C. She received her MPA from Cornell University, and can be reached at email@example.com.
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As Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Washington to discuss a bilateral strategic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, policymakers and the public are debating the pace of troop drawdown and the residual force post-2014, when the security handover to Afghan authorities finishes. Missing from these discussions is a focus on the political and economic transitions underway in Afghanistan - areas that will serve as greater determinants of Afghan stability than whether there are zero, 4,000, or 9,000 U.S. troops. Politics ultimately drive the Afghan conflict, and its resolution will require a broader political consensus and stronger economic foundation than currently exists.
President Karzai's visit offers an opportunity for the Obama administration, members of Congress and others to drill down and express support for a number of political and economic priorities, which could assist in strengthening the legitimacy and competence of the Afghan state as the United States and NATO drawdown. The current Afghan state is deeply flawed and has alienated many Afghans due to its exclusive and predatory nature. The constitutional system, which vests great power in the hands of the executive without real checks and balances, lends itself to abuses of authority. Officials often use formal state institutions to support their patronage networks, fueling high levels of corruption, cronyism, and nepotism on the national and local levels. What's more, the dependency of the Afghan government and its security forces on high levels of international assistance for the foreseeable future, especially in a time of global austerity, threatens to undermine a sustainable transition.
Creating a stronger political consensus and a more solid economic foundation for the Afghan state will be required for long-term stability in Afghanistan. In their meetings with President Karzai and his team, senior U.S. officials must state their expectations about these political and economic processes, clarifying that long-term security support is contingent on Afghan progress on these efforts. Expectations should include the following:
First, a free, fair, inclusive and transparent presidential election is required in which President Karzai transfers power to a legitimately elected successor. President Karzai must work to ensure that the electoral bodies, including the Independent Electoral Commission and an electoral complaints mechanism are independent and credible. The United States hopes to see parliamentary approval of the electoral laws and the implementation of a plan to ensure a successful election.
Second, the United States supports an inclusive political reconciliation process, led by Afghans. The United States supports outreach by President Karzai to more Afghan stakeholders, including the political opposition, women, and civil society groups, in addition to Taliban insurgents. The United States and Afghanistan should create a bilateral mechanism to coordinate their peacemaking, public statements regarding negotiations and outreach to stakeholders, as well as to establish a venue, where representatives of the parties to the conflict can meet outside of Afghanistan or Pakistan to discuss a political settlement.
Third, the United States remains committed to the agreements made at the Tokyo conference in July 2012 by the Afghan government and the international community. In addition to agreeing to provide $16 billion in civilian assistance through 2015, the international community committed to improving the effectiveness of its aid, aligning its assistance with Afghan priority programs, and providing more aid through the Afghan government's budget rather than through outside contractors. However, the disbursements of these dollars depends on the Afghan government progressing on its own commitments, including:
Fourth, the United States supports the development of Afghanistan's mineral sector, in a way that benefits the Afghan population and not a select few. While Afghanistan is already a candidate member of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Karzai administration should develop an Extractive Industries Development Framework that governs Afghanistan's natural wealth through an "accountable, efficient and transparent mechanism which builds upon and surpasses international best practices", as agreed to in Tokyo. The Ministry of Mines should continue to engage with civil society in order to increase transparency in the mining sector and to respond to the needs of communities affected by mining.
The Obama administration must focus on political and economic priorities during President Karzai's visit. Military aspects-troop numbers, training of the Afghan forces, and financial support to the security services-won't be enough to ensure Afghanistan's security and stability over the long term. Leaving behind an unprepared and expensive force to battle an insurgency that NATO has struggled to contain is more likely to create instability than lasting security. Instead, U.S. efforts must be focused on building a more sustainable Afghan state.
John Podesta is Chairman and Caroline Wadhams is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
With a second term assured, President Barack Obama has a shot at making a huge difference in greater South Asia, an opportunity that he failed to take in his first term. This may now be the time for a new hyphenation across the map of that critical part of the globe: bringing together a string of countries ranging from Iran, through Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to Bangladesh. For this may be the center of gravity of Asian stability and growth in the next couple of decades, if the United States and its partners get their policies right. But first, the President needs to create a center of gravity for decision making on this region in his own Administration, reaching across the aisle and bringing in new blood to rejuvenate his efforts to bring peace. Then he must help create a network among the nations of this region that is based on their own self-interests and from which the United States would profit immeasurably.
The President could use the emerging forces of democracy, gender equality, and civilian supremacy rather than military might as the catalysts for change in the region. No carrots or sticks, but moral suasion, applied quietly and confidently to help these countries build confidence amongst themselves.
India is perhaps the most critical part of this new opportunity. Under a Prime Minister who has dared to think of peace and normalcy even with arch enemy Pakistan, India needs to be encouraged to open its borders to its neighbors for trade and travel, opening far wider the door that has been cracked open in recent months. A paranoid Pakistan that fears hot borders on the east and the west could be helped to get over its concerns. Pakistan must recognize that it is in its own interest to create normalcy with its neighbors, for it cannot afford to continue on the path of military or economic competition, especially with India. Rather, it can catapult its economy to new heights by becoming a regional partner. The United States could also bring together support for strengthening Pakistan's recent overtures to all Afghans, not just the contiguous Pakhtuns, whom Pakistan wrongly saw in the past as its assets.. There are signs that Pakistan is prepared to let Afghanistan be Afghanistan. Much could be done to support that trend by helping open trade and power (gas and hydroelectricity) routes to central Asia. In both these countries, civil society and civilian governments are the key to progress and stability. Pluralism, gender equality, education, and health may be the foundation stones to help them gain their footing as democracies.
This means shifting the focus of expenditures from guns to butter over time. The United States has a great position in that regard, as a strategic partner to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India for the time in history. It can also open the door to engagement with Iran by bringing Iran back to the table on Afghanistan's future stability. By helping create regional ownership for Afghanistan's future it can find a way to exit gracefully from the region. India, again, will be key in creating transparency in its relations with Afghanistan to help Pakistan overcome its suspicions of being hemmed in on both sides.
The region has been ready for some time to create an atmosphere of trust, though much remains to be done on the issues of cross-border terrorism and non-state actors. Civil society groups have started benefiting from the opening of trade relations and visa regimes. The current limited transit trade arrangements need to be extended from Kabul to Dhaka. The cross pollination of ideas -- especially among the burgeoning youthful populations of the region - and the greater involvement of women in their societies, will help ensure that there is no slipping back toward obscurantist thinking of the past. Those positive trends are growing and cannot be turned back, come what may.
President Obama can ride these emerging waves to truly earn his Nobel Prize of four years ago by helping bring lasting peace to greater South Asia. Perhaps he could start by visiting two border posts in the first few months of his second term: Wagah, where India meets Pakistan, and Torkham, where Afghanistan and Pakistan meet, and calling for keeping the gates that now close daily to remain open forever. This would be a grand legacy for the 44th president of the United States.
Shuja Nawaz is director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.
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Driving north from Mazar-i-Sharif, in Northern Afghanistan, to the Uzbek border last week was a revelation. I first lived in Mazar in 1993, while I worked for the International Organization for Migration assisting Afghan refugees returning to northern and central Afghanistan. Back then, the roadway was decrepit and insecure, and travelers feared to veer from the roadbed due to landmines. Recently, as USAID's senior-most representative focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan, I met with key leaders and observing the impact of USAID projects. This corridor of infrastructure and commerce, includes not only a new road, but a railroad line (Afghanistan's first!) and new electricity transmission lines that supply cheap, reliable power to much of the north and Kabul. A new customs facility at the border is also generating greater trade - and collecting more revenue for the Afghan government.
There is a virtuous cycle of security, commerce, investment, confidence and good governance building in the north that shows what a successful Afghanistan can look like. This virtuous cycle is essential to stability post-2014, and must be reinforced and replicated. Here is some of what we saw.
First stop: the Hairatan Customs Depot. Trucks and trains from Uzbekistan first arrive in Afghanistan at the Hairatan Customs Depot, where shippers enter their data online, and government officials review their shipments and forms, determine the value of the goods and the tax rate, and begin tracking shipments to ensure they arrive safely at their destinations. With the help of USAID's technical experts, customs officials have streamlined the process from 26 to 16 steps, cutting processing time by 40% and removing opportunities for corruption. These steps alone are estimated to have increased revenues over $7.5 million in the last year.
An increasing portion of shipments coming across the border move to the next stop -- the Naibabad Railroad Depot - via Afghanistan's first railroad. Here, shipments from Central Asia and Russia - wood, flour, steel, and cooking oil - are loaded onto trucks headed for markets and consumers in Mazar and Kabul. On average, Afghan customs officials collect $1,000 per shipment for every shipment worth $15,000 - resources that are making the Afghan government more self-sustaining.
Down the road, at the Gorimar Industrial Park, we went to a soy processing plant and an oxygen tank production facility. With support from USAID and USDA, Afghans are processing soy beans into soy flour and edible oil and using the by-product for high-protein animal feed. We watched some of this feed being loaded for export to Uzbekistan. Next door, oxygen tanks - once only imported from neighboring countries - are now produced locally and sold to hospitals in Mazar for 40 percent of the cost just a few months ago. The oxygen factory is an Afghan private investment.
Finally, our last stop of the day - the Balkh Diary Plant, is a cooperative owned and self-sustaining business located in the center of Mazar that produces milk, yogurt, butter, and cheese. USAID has been working to increase the milk yield with local dairy producers - mostly women with 1-2 animals. These efforts have been so successful, increasing milk yields five-fold, that they now have excess milk to sell to the factory. The plant can produce 8,000 half-liter bags of milk per day, each sold for 15-20 Afghanis, and pays approximately 800 farmers to supply milk to the plant, creating a profitable enterprise that is getting resources directly into the hands of Afghan farmers and milk and export grade yogurt into the hands of Afghan consumers at higher quality and lower price.
Afghans have the capacity, will, and resources to create regional hubs of commerce that will carry the economy, fund their government, employ their youth, positively engage their neighbors, and feed their population. Problems of local governance and corruption are hurdles to this dynamic, but the primary constraint at the moment is insecurity as illustrated by the horrific and senseless bombing that targeted Eid celebrants near Mazar in Faryab province last week. Improving governance and the economic environment are essential to further progress and to attracting the private sector investment critical to sustain this momentum.
Given the inherent challenges of the transition through 2014, getting the Afghan people to see and embrace the demonstrable progress they've made as a society is essential. It is critical to engage the population around the vision of sustaining these investments - and the progress in the north provides an important window into what that looks like.
Alex Thier is the Assistant to the Administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
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A beat was missed on U.S. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon's late July visit to Beijing. Described in the Chinese press as a "fire extinguisher visit," it came as tensions continue to ratchet up in the South China Sea and the United States continues to butt heads with China over Iran, Syria and theoretical war plans. These disputes obscure the one area with scope for much greater cooperation between China and the United States: Afghanistan. Building on mutual goals in Afghanistan could have a positive effect on the overall relationship, showing that the distance between the two sides is not the Pacific-sized gulf that it is sometimes made out to be.
In discussions with Chinese officials about their objectives, the uniform answer is "a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan." This is almost identical to answers given by their American counterparts. That said, there is a difference in tone that reflects the underlying concerns that craft it.
For Beijing, Afghanistan is primarily a domestic problem. With a common border in the sometimes lawless Wakhan Corridor, what happens in Afghanistan can potentially spill over into some of China's most sensitive spots. This past spring, we visited China's border in Wakhan and witnessed the ease with which militants or smugglers can cross over. Even if trouble from Afghanistan does not cross directly into Chinese territory it is likely to have a destabilizing effect in Central Asia to the north, and Pakistan to the south. China has invested heavily in both, and both have strong trade and cultural links to China's underdeveloped and at times restive Xinjiang province. Beijing's interest in Afghanistan turning out positively is first and foremost about China's internal cohesion.
For Washington, the problem of Afghanistan is physically far away. The decision has been made to withdraw all combat troops by 2014, so the discussion is no longer what to do about the country, but how to exit in a dignified manner. What security concerns the United States continues to have will be covered by the residual force left behind, but the overriding priority is for the draw down from Afghanistan to not descend into chaos as soon as the majority of American and NATO forces leave. In our recent visit to Kabul, we could not help but note the principal focus of U.S. officials on this one goal. Washington's interest in Afghanistan turning out positively is about leaving behind a country more hopeful than when U.S. forces arrived.
This clear confluence has led American diplomats to encourage their Chinese counterparts to invest in Afghanistan's future. Beijing has responded in its own way. Chinese state owned enterprises (SOEs) have invested in a copper mine southeast of Kabul at Mes Aynak and an oil field in Amu Darya. China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is seriously looking into a trans-Afghan natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China that does not necessarily rival U.S.-backed plans for a similar line to Pakistan and India.
China's engagement is not only economic. It made Afghanistan an ‘observer' member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at its June summit. While in Beijing, President Karzai also signed a strategic partnership agreement with his Chinese counterpart. Last week, China's Central Military Commission publically called for closer ties with the Afghan Defense Ministry.
There is also increasing evidence of low-profile cooperation with the United States on the ground in Afghanistan. There have been joint U.S.-China training programs for Afghan diplomats, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton providing a recorded message to open one session. Beijing has also indicated that it would be willing to provide counter-terrorism training for Afghan forces, coordinated with U.S. efforts. Chinese officials we spoke to in Beijing and Kabul were quick to downplay their potential role in the future of Afghanistan. But, their actions show that they understand the regional implications of the looming U.S. withdrawal.
A neighbor will always be more aware of the blighted house next door than will someone living across town. The limited collaboration between American and Chinese officials on the ground in Afghanistan is a pragmatic and sensible step. Their principals in Beijing and Washington should support them by discussing the modalities of a partnership for Afghanistan's future.
Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and Alexandros Petersen is the author of The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West. Their joint research can be found at www.chinaincentralasia.com.
In a speech earlier this year to commemorate the reign of King Amanullah, Afghanistan's reformist king during the 1920's, Afghan President Hamid Karzai focused on the younger generation's contribution to the country's future: ‘'This is a steady wheel that is progressively moving toward more development, and it will not turn back," he said. "This is a young man's engine with a power that does not know cold or any other obstacles."
While the country's social development has seemed to move backwards since the 1920's, the Afghan youth of today make up the country's most encouraging hope for progression, though they do face obstacles. The formation of a variety of civil society organizations over the past 10 years, initiated and operated primarily by a younger generation of Afghansseemingly frustrated into motivation, has a central role to play in the course of the country's future.
This generation was born and has come of age during a time that forced many Afghan families to flee to neighboring or Western countries, where theytook advantage of opportunities for education and intellectual development. Those who remained in Afghanistan saw enough to know they wanted a different future. According to Afghanistan's Central Statistics Organization, 76 percent of the population is under the age of 35. Enrollment in higher education is at an all-time high - a 25 percent increase in university intake in 2012 compared to the previous year from 84,184 to 112,367. Though the quality of education is relatively low, the number of Afghans striving for an education attests to the country's desire to be educated.
Educated youths, mainly residing in urban areas, make up a cadre of young intellectuals and professionals that populate a large part of the public and private sector, from Afghan media, governmental bureaucracy, and diplomatic circles to, most importantly, civil society. They are in positions to have their voices heard in ways that influence their peers and set new standards of expectations from their leaders. This is bolstered by the scope and reach of social networking media as a tool for voicing opinion, which has forced even the Taliban to adopt tools such as Twitter in order to engage wider audiences. Another key characteristic of this generation is that they come from all different types of backgrounds-they are children of the diaspora, the mujahideen, and the communists, yet they share a common goal.
While the influence of this generation is invariably limited by the obstacles of the surroundings in which they operate, one area that has particularly flourished with the involvement of youth is civil society, asector of Afghan society that is dominated by the ideals and optimism of the entrepreneurial and socially progressive mood of many young, educated Afghans. The 4,280 civil society and non-governmental organizations registered in Afghanistan take many shapes and forms--from social responsibility and charity groups addressing issues such as women's and children's rights, the rights of the disabled, civic engagement, education, and environmental campaigns, to professional groups that bring together entrepreneurs and practitioners in various sectors including health, telecommunications, and economic development.
Two such exemplary organizations are Young Women for Change (YWC), a social organization advocating women's rights, and the National ICT Alliance of Afghanistan (NICTAA), a consortium of information and communication technology (ICT) entities working to forward the industry in Afghanistan. Established in 2011, YWC, the group of young Afghan women, and even some men, raises awareness of women's rights. The group has been highly vocal and visible in advocating for change, most notably in the summer of 2011 when male and female YWC members staged a public march to protest sexual harassment of women in the streets. More recently, the group opened Afghanistan's first women-only internet café.
NICTAA, as a consortium of information and communication technology (ICT) professionals established in 2008, brings together ICT actors in the public and private sector and academia to work toward the advancement and development of this sector in Afghanistan, an area that brings significant investment in the country, an estimated 1.7 billion USD as of June 2012.The organisation has represented Afghanistan's ICT sector at conferences worldwide, and is unique in that it works closely with the government to create opportunities in the sector in Afghanistan.
At a recent parliamentary inquiry in the United Kingdom, the Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, responded to multiple questions about how progress on women and human rights would be ensured post-2014 by referencing the British government's new program for strengthening civil society organisations. His argument was that by strengthening Afghan civil society, such organisations could in turn hold their government to account, and challenge its response to women and human rights.
While civil society organizations (CSOs) do hold a critical mirror to reflect the country's key issues, both positive and negative, and provide platforms for the public to respond, engage, and challenge social, professional, or economic policies and issues, they do face serious obstacles, mainly due to the lack of an enabling environment. Due to poor security, most groups are based from urban centers, with operations and progress mainly confined to Afghanistan's cities and out of reach of the nearly 80% of Afghans residing in rural areas.
Moreover, of the thousands of CSOs registered with the government, it's unclear how many are inactive or were set up as a means for channelling funds. Civil society has not escaped the touch of corruption plaguing Afghanistan, either. The government has not shied away from taking action against organisations that have been vocal in challenging them, most recently the controversial dismissal of the head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, allegedly over the pending publication of a report accusing high-ranking cabinet members of past human rights violations.
Despite these challenges, CSOs do present an opportunity to put forth and encouragechangein Afghan society and policy. In a country where well-established, national political parties with clear strategic visions have not fully developed, the country risks floating from one power-holder to the next without the reform that often comes from healthy party rivalries and change of administrations.
The collective influences and achievements of civil society organisations at all levels of Afghan society need to be consolidated at a national level, especially in the face of uncertainty beyond 2014, as a way to fill that void. Uniting civil society organisations in a sort of national-level consortium would be a massive undertaking, not only due to the sheer number of groups, but also due to the range of differing topics and issues covered; however, a common overarching goal arguably underlies civil society groups in Afghanistan that only their united support could help advance: a peaceful and progressive future for the country geared toward economic, social, and educational advancement and stability.
Lael A. Mohib works in community and rural development in Afghanistan, and has an M.A. in International Relations with a focus on Afghanistan from Boston University. Hamdullah Mohib was Director of Information Technology at the American University of Afghanistan, and is now studying for his PhD at Brunel University.
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The Tokyo meeting on Afghanistan of July 8 exceeded expectations in terms of both the total civilian aid funding indicated by donors ($16 billion over four years, or $4 billion per year on average) and the commitments agreed to by the Afghan government. This favorable outcome in turn has generated expectations for the future. "Mutual accountability" is the framework for implementation established at Tokyo to ensure that such expectations aren't disappointed. Mutual accountability means that the Afghan government and the international community are both responsible for -- and are accountable to each other for -- achieving mutually agreed objectives in the areas of improving governance, political transition, and development performance (by the government), and delivering aid and improving its effectiveness (by the international community). But will mutual accountability work? A recent paper sheds light on this question based on international experience and Afghanistan's recent history.
This is not the first time that sets of commitments and benchmarks have been used to try to move forward progress in Afghanistan. The past decade has seen numerous declarations and agreements, reflecting the multiplicity of donors and the plethora of high-profile international meetings since 2001; some prominent examples are briefly discussed below.
The Bonn Agreement of December 2001 required a number of political and institutional actions on the Afghan side, and the international community undertook to provide support. Most benchmarks-such as convening of a national assembly (Emergency Loya Jirga), adoption of a new constitution, and presidential and parliamentary elections-were achieved, on-time. However, the broader objective of state-building was elusive, and progress toward stable political institutions and normal political life was limited. Moreover, the Bonn process did not set in motion self-sustaining dynamics for continuing progress after it was completed in 2005. On the contrary, there were reversals in some respects, and the second round of elections in 2009-2010 turned out to be more problematic than the first round in 2004-2005.
The Afghanistan Compact of 2006 is a good example of how not to do mutual accountability. The wide range of areas covered and the sheer number of benchmarks-well over 100 of them in some 52 different areas-represented a "Christmas tree" approach which included almost everything and thereby ended up prioritizing nothing. It soon became largely irrelevant. Moreover, the mechanism for overseeing implementation, the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB), became an unwieldy, largely diplomatic forum.
There has been good experience with policy-based budget support (funding provided directly to the Afghan government budget by international financial institutions, in return for implementation of an agreed set of policy measures as part of a coherent reform agenda), and also with the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund's Incentive Program (ARTF IP). These initiatives took on board lessons from international experience; supported reform constituencies in the Afghan government; and built constructive dialogue between government and donors. The ARTF IP, with its agreed benchmarks and financial incentives, is a good example of coordinated financing (pooled funding) by the ARTF donors. However, these initiatives accounted for only a small proportion of total aid, did not include political conditions, and did not work well where highly connected political and financial interests were involved. For example, the Kabul Bank crisis was of a magnitude that could not be effectively addressed through the ARTF IP and its benchmarks; indeed the entire ARTF was put at risk as donor contributions dried up during the crisis.
The Tokyo Framework of July 8 clearly reflects learning from experience. There are 20-plus benchmarks for the government in five main areas, far fewer than in the Afghanistan Compact. There is a long-term perspective-the "decade of transformation" (2014-2025), and the responsibilities of Afghanistan and the international community are clearly set forth and demarcated.
However, major issues and challenges lie ahead in implementing the Tokyo Framework. On the international side, the multiplicity of donors means there is fragmented accountability, which could adversely affect coherence as well as the ability of the international community to be meaningfully held accountable for total funding, particularly given severe fiscal constraints faced around the world. Coordinated funding will be essential, but is it realistic to expect most aid to go through the Afghan government budget/trust funds? This would require a wholesale change from past patterns whereby the bulk of aid was fragmented, project-based, and off-budget.
For the Afghan government, uncertain political and security prospects raise doubts about its ability to meet commitments. The reform constituency may be weakening; there has been an inability to fully address issues where high-level political connections are involved (e.g. Kabul Bank); and more generally, political will for meaningful reforms understandably may decline as the security transition proceeds and the next election cycle approaches. Preparations for elections-presidential in 2014 and parliamentary in 2015-will be an important early test of political will, including as called for in the Tokyo Declaration developing a comprehensive election timeline by early 2013 and a robust electoral architecture to enable successful and timely elections. Fighting corruption, including meaningful asset declarations of senior officials in the executive, legislature, and judiciary, will be another good indicator of the extent of political will for reforms.
Moreover, it is doubtful whether major political issues can be adequately handled through an articulated mutual accountability framework with benchmarks and calibrated financial incentives. Other mechanisms, such as that set up to oversee implementation of the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the Afghan and US governments, may be better suited for handling "big-ticket" issues, such as the preparations for and conduct and quality of the next presidential and parliamentary elections.
Inability by the international community to deliver the level of funding committed could provide a justification for the Afghan government failing to achieve its benchmarks. Mutual accountability could then degenerate into each side accusing the other of not delivering on promises, rather than working as a framework with incentives to achieve positive results and improve behavior on both sides as intended.
How will achievement of benchmarks be monitored and enforced? Given past experience, there are doubts about how well the JCMB (mandated to oversee implementation), and the series of further high-level meetings agreed at Tokyo, will work. Declining aid for Afghanistan means the funding lever potentially will be stronger than in the past, when aid was increasing and pressures to spend more money were overwhelming irrespective of performance, but it is not clear how effectively it can be deployed given donor fragmentation and also that some funding (e.g. for Afghan security forces) is seen as an integral part of international drawdown strategy and hence will be difficult to hold back.
In conclusion, while the outcome at Tokyo exceeded expectations and hence was a success, the challenge henceforth will be implementation. Mutual accountability-the cornerstone of the Tokyo Framework-is intended to put in place a set of responsibilities and incentives for the Afghan government and for the international community that will foster better behavior and performance on the part of both. There are serious questions about whether and how well mutual accountability will work, most important among them the level of political will in the Afghan government for taking difficult actions and the degree of coherence of donors as well as their ability and willingness to use financial leverage both positively and negatively to encourage fulfillment of government commitments.
William Byrd is a visiting senior expert at the United States Institute of Peace. This note is based on his remarks on mutual accountability at a USIP panel discussion on the subject. The views expressed here are his own.
Ten years after the first Afghanistan reconstruction conference was held in Tokyo in 2002, Japan will host a second donors' gathering on July 8 to formulate a strategy to ensure the sustainable development of Afghanistan beyond 2014 - the date set for NATO's withdrawal. Tokyo 1 took place at a time of high hope, a clean slate, and enthusiasm for engagement, but almost no assessment of the gargantuan rebuilding task to be undertaken in a country devastated by more than two decades of warfare. There also was no insurgency to worry about. Tokyo 2 is happening at a time of uncertainty and donor fatigue, but at least the stakeholders now have a vast (and expensive) database to work with. However, the most conspicuous feature Afghans and donors will face next week and beyond, is the fragility permeating the Afghan security, political and economic sectors. Furthermore, the Taliban are now viewed as a real threat to stability.
This is not to say that Afghanistan, a country with a strong society and a weak state, is about to collapse or be engulfed in civil war, as some dramatically predict, but it is to highlight the very real concerns that Afghans have about their predicament, knowing that too much money (and generosity) resulted in less than desired outcomes on all three fronts. Not only are there serious lessons, especially in regards to contracting and prioritization, to be learned about the international side of the engagement since 2002, but also about the Afghan absorption, management and accountability sides as well.
Although the Afghan economy's growth rate has hovered around an average of 8% per annum for the past nine years, income per capita has tripled to more than $520, life expectancy and child and maternal deaths have improved considerably, more than 8 million children have access to education, domestic revenue has increased eight-fold since 2002, and the country's telecommunication and energy connections are impressive, there is still angst about an unresponsive government, a donor-led economy, and a nagging insurgency.
The Afghan ministerial delegation, led by then-interim chairman Hamid Karzai, headed to Tokyo 1 with a short wish list to present to a receptive community of donors, but it did not prioritize key sectors like agriculture, power and water, or institution and capacity building. The main focus was on road building. It took nearly five more years to focus on agriculture and power. The emphasis this time around should be on infrastructure, institution and human capital buildup
Initially, the footprint adopted for rebuilding and securing Afghanistan was light and small. With the re-emergence of Taliban militias from their cross-border hideouts by 2005, and a realization that the impoverished nation needed a more robust effort to make up for two generations of destruction and lack of development in all sectors, a heavier footprint and grander financial investment became necessary to make a difference.
As aid and troop inflows reached new heights by 2010-11, economic, political and public opinion expediencies in major donor nations resulted in a strategic about-face to lower expenditures and start the withdrawal process - some would argue prematurely - anchored in hopes that a half-cooked reconciliation process aimed partly at re-integrating the Taliban would be easily reached. In a country where more than 95% of the local economy is dependent on military spending, American development aid alone has been cut nearly in half this year, from $4.1 billion to $2.5 billion.
Today, as donors gather in Tokyo 2 to pledge once again to support the Afghan economy beyond 2014, Afghanistan stands at a precarious crossroads, either leading toward business-as-usual, a path to serious reform and overhaul, or worsening conditions.
There are two critical goals:
1. Avoiding a repeat of the early 1990s collapse of the communist regime, partly as a result of money supplies running dry from Moscow;
2. Avoiding a repeat of the last 1o years in terms of weak strategizing, weak coordination, less-than-adequate prioritization, mismanagement, waste, graft, nepotism, impunity, and fraud. The fact that after all these years, Afghan state institutions are still having major difficulties with the expenditure of their development budget is a sign of structural dissonance, low capacity, and weak middle-to-upper management skills. Unprofessional auditing systems have given rise to political manipulation.
The immediate remedy is not just about channeling a greater percentage of foreign aid through government channels (although that has to be a consideration), it is about competent leadership at the helm of weak institutions who can restructure and assure fiscal discipline by adopting result-oriented strategies.
The trust factor has eroded so deeply between government and the public, and between the donors and Afghan authorities, that it is becoming increasingly difficult to initiate real reforms, fight corruption (starting at higher levels) and adopt better governance practices. The rebound requires a major effort on the part of the Afghan government to implement widespread consultation and participatory decision-making in order to rebuild confidence.
It is expected that discussions at Tokyo 2 will also focus on regional integration and cooperation. While Afghan security challenges are fed by neighborhood players, all efforts should be made to prevent an economic relapse post-2014 and facilitate a democratic and peaceful transfer of power.
As Afghanistan aims to exploit its underground mineral wealth and oil and gas reserves - to a large extent subject to relative peace and stability - and serve as the regional linkage for the "new silk road," it will be incumbent upon the authorities to adopt laws on access to information, and set up credible watchdog functions, and for all sides to follow strict rules pertaining to transparency, accountability, and environmental and cultural sensitivity.
In the Afghan context, reform requires political will, a competent and committed team, as well as a belief in good governance and rule of law, in creating effective partnerships across international, communal and private, public alignments, and in designing smart and sustainable projects that take into consideration the needs and rights of communities, including women, girls, and minorities.
The Afghan government will reportedly make a request for almost $4 billion of annual aid until 2025, and will agree to sign off on a "Mutual Accountability Framework" spelling out obligations on all sides.
Tokyo 2 needs to make use of best practices and agree on what constitutes a priority program. Donors also need to assure sustainability of all projects proposed by the Afghan side as part of the more than 20 programs that will require funding. There will be a requirement to put in place functional follow-up mechanisms and track established benchmarks.
While the international community takes yet another step to affirm its long-term commitment to Afghanistan -- following the Chicago NATO summit in May and the Bonn 2 conference last December -- Afghanistan will need to give assurances that it is adopting a reformist agenda that not only would enable all transitions to succeed but would make Afghanistan more self-sufficient within in a more stable region. Together they need to reduce the risks inherent to fragility.
Omar Samad is Senior Afghanistan Expert at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington D.C. Formerly, he served as Afghanistan's Ambassador to France (2009-2011) and Canada (2004-2009). He was spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry between 2001-2004.
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Last month saw a major step forward for the proposed TAPI natural gas pipeline. Regarded as a perennial pipe dream by many energy analysts, many critics of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India project were silenced by the signing of a gas sales and purchase agreement between Turkmengaz, Inter State Gas Systems of Pakistan and the Gas Authority of India (GAIL). With the backing of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the deal set important specifics, including payment and transit terms. But the ambitious project still faces daunting hurdles before it can become reality.
Not least of these challenges is its proposed 750 kilometer route through some of Afghanistan's most war-torn provinces such as Herat and Kandahar. TAPI has received strong support from the United States as part of Washington's "New Silk Road" strategy to bring development to Afghanistan through regional infrastructure connections, and as an alternative to the proposed Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline. As part of the recent agreement, GAIL will be responsible for managing the pipeline's security -- from the Turkmen border to end consumers in Indian homes -- and Pakistan's participation in the project may spare it some attacks. Despite this factor, there is no question that security will remain a major concern throughout the pipeline's construction and operation.
However, it may not be the greatest challenge to the realization of TAPI. That challenge may come simply from the size and focus of the project. Feasibility studies have been conducted, most notably by the ADB. But if the consortium does not concentrate on quickly constructing a commerc?ally-or?ented pipeline on a manageable scale, it risks repeating the mistakes of the now infamous Nabucco pipeline, which was to have connected Turkmenistan on its Caspian side with natural gas consumers in Central Europe. After close to a decade and a half of discussion, Nabucco is now being scaled back to half its size, and may not go forward at all. Nabucco's faults were that it was a geopolitical project, aimed at busting Russian gas dominance in Eurasia, and that at 3,000+ km it became an unwieldy mess of multiple transit countries and stakeholders. Aimed at providing a massive 31 billion cubic meters of gas each year, it was in danger of becoming technically unfeasible, as well as transporting more gas than could realistically be consumed downstream.
Current plans for TAPI call for a 1700 kilometer line bringing up to 33 billion cubic meters of gas per year to consumers along the route. This is already very ambitious for a route traversing dangerous territory, and following last month's agreement, Bangladesh expressed interest in joining the project, potentially extending it to 2500 kilometers, with an increased capacity. Projected costs, calculated by the ADB, have also grown from $7.5 billion to $12 billion, even without the proposed Bangladesh extension.
The Afghanistan portion is undeniably critical to TAPI's construction: there is no other route for Turkmen gas to reach South Asia. It could bring major benefits to the feeble Afghan economy, especially if plans are realized for spin-off projects to serve local communities along the way. But, TAPI will fail if it becomes a "peace pipeline," whether for Afghanistan or between India and Pakistan. To their credit, the U.S. State Department officials working on the project have consistently stressed that it must first and foremost be commercially viable. But that does not stop regional actors, whether part of the consortium or not, from politicizing an already sensitive trans-national project.
TAPI must also maintain a reasonable scope. The construction of a record-breaking pipeline through a conflict zone with too many regional cooks in the kitchen is an insurmountable task. A relatively modest gas link with sound commercial underpinning and adequate security provisions may stand a chance at becoming reality. The current plan still resembles the second option, but there have been indications recently that we could end up with the first. New partners, whether Bangladesh or others, can join later, once pipe has actually been laid. Technical provisions can be made for the pipeline's capacity to be expanded down the road. The key is to have the pipeline built, not to continually talk about building it.
TAPI should move forward on the basis of this past month's agreement. The current partners have been working together for years and, according to the ADB, have finally overcome the majority of the sticking points that stood in the way of implementation. The focus should be on progress towards construction, not expansion of the project. Eurasia has seen its fair share of pipe dreams. It is time for one to become reality. The region does not need another Nabucco.
Alexandros Petersen is author of the The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West and Advisor to the European Energy Security Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His current research is available at www.chinaincentralasia.com.
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
NATO's plan to transition Afghanistan to Afghan security control by the end
of 2014 offers an unexpected but potentially golden opportunity for the United States
and its allies to rectify, or at least improve, their strategy towards Pakistan.
In the midst of major budget cuts and a reorientation of our global footprint
away from Iraq and Afghanistan, Western leaders -- and particularly the U.S.
Congress -- are already tempted to reduce support to a country that can at best be
considered a fair-weather friend. But over the next several years, the
United States and NATO will be offered a chance to help Pakistan establish a
functioning civil society without the complications of a Western-led counterinsurgency
campaign across the border.
One benefit of reducing NATO's military presence in Afghanistan is that it will make it easier for the U.S. and allied governments to support entities in Pakistan in addition to the Government of Pakistan itself, particularly non-governmental organizations. At the same time, it will make accepting that assistance more palatable to Pakistanis, many of whom believe NATO's war has wrought violence and destruction upon their country. While foreign aid is far from guaranteed to achieve its intended results in Pakistan (or anywhere), effective assistance to Pakistan's civil society, in combination with increased access to foreign markets and improvements in security, is the tool most likely to help Pakistanis slow the slide toward failed nuclear statehood. With a fast-growing population of disenfranchised and radicalized youth, that scenario represents a clear threat to Western interests as well as Pakistan itself.
Over the course of a ten-year war in Afghanistan, the United States and allied governments steadily increased assistance to the government of Pakistan, reducing it only after the death of Osama bin Laden and Pakistan's indignant response. From the United States alone, direct overt aid and military reimbursements ballooned from $1.99 billion in 2002 to $4.29 billion in 2010. This number dropped to $2.37 billion in 2011 following a slow deterioration of relations that hit rock-bottom with the bin Laden raid on May 2 and has continued to slip over issues like NATO supply lines and cross-border incidents. The majority of this decrease has been made up of security assistance, and specifically Coalition Support Funds (CSF), which are used to reimburse Pakistan for military operations undertaken in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In the immediate aftermath of September 11, the United States was explicit in its statements of expectations for Pakistani cooperation, and confidence in Pakistan's support for U.S. efforts ran high through early 2002. By early 2003, however, President Karzai was intimating that Pakistan might be behind some Taliban attacks inside Afghanistan, or at least that Pakistan harbored those who were conducting them. The U.S. press was regularly reporting such accusations - including cryptic quotes from anonymous U.S. officials -- by mid-2004, and in July 2008, U.S. officials were all but confirming that Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) was supporting Taliban groups.
Thus, the majority of U.S. assistance was ultimately provided
in spite of what many perceived as a contradiction between what Pakistan said
("we're on your side in Afghanistan; your terrorists are our
terrorists"), and what their actions seemed to convey ("we are
primarily concerned with our terrorists and may go as far as supporting those
who attack your soldiers if it will protect our interests in Kabul").
These misgivings were felt broadly inside the U.S. government, reaching as high
as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen who, after
years of staunch support for Pakistan, famously called the Haqqani Network a "veritable
arm of the ISI." But Pakistan's military cooperation along the border
combined with critical assistance on counterterrorism made providing almost
anything worth the cost, even while many knew the assistance relationship was
This calculus must shift as NATO reduces its footprint in Afghanistan. The United States and NATO will still need the Government of Pakistan's cooperation on certain issues, particularly counterterrorism, but also ensuring supplies reach the Special Operations and intelligence personnel remaining in Afghanistan after the bulk of the forces withdraw. Maintaining good relations with the military and civilian leadership is critical, because they are important regional actors and arbiters of access for personnel, official and otherwise. Improving the Pakistan military's ability to control its territory will also remain important as long as insurgent groups - not to mention al-Qaeda - continue to use it as a safe haven. But overall the United States and its allies will need those entities less, making it easier to diversify who receives aid in the country. Certainly it will be a challenge to maintain these relationships while diverting assistance from the military and/or civilian government to other groups within Pakistan. But as long as we are careful to avoid supporting groups that the Government of Pakistan views as active threats (i.e., opposing political parties, Christian groups, or organizations associated with India), there is no reason the United States, its allies, and private aid organizations cannot provide assistance to groups outside the formal government structure and/or military. In fact, this is the United States' foreign assistance model in many other countries around the world.
States and its allies will also have more leeway to negotiate access for
personnel who can oversee implementation and increase transparency. For example, the Government of Pakistan has
been circumspect about allowing U.S.
and other foreign personnel to directly implement assistance programs and
military training, with obvious effects on donors' ability to verify how and
where money is spent. Past efforts to
use assistance as leverage to gain necessary access have been somewhat
successful, but have floundered during periods of escalated tensions. If the United States and NATO are less
dependent on Pakistan to support operations in Afghanistan, and if
Afghanistan-related tensions are even partially diffused, they will be better
positioned to require access and transparency in return for aid.
The future stability of Pakistan is reliant on a viable civilian leadership capable and willing to address the needs of its people. With a population of more than 180 million growing by 50 million over the next 15 years, the political elite's inability to address a chronic lack of education and basic services is setting the conditions for major civil unrest accompanied by sectarian violence and instability. Current efforts to remedy these problems are underfunded and plagued by administrative and logistical problems, making the likelihood of effective progress slim without outside help. And in a country with rampant Islamic extremism and a fast-growing nuclear arsenal, the current trajectory makes Pakistan - already a dangerous place - even more ominous on the world stage.
nations' ability to change Pakistan's
overall course is limited. There is,
however, reason to be hopeful. There
were an estimated 100,000 non-profit
organizations operating in Pakistan as of 2009, a large percentage of which are
locally-funded and could have greater impact with the help of foreign
funding. In a less contentious future
environment, the United States and its allies could provide assistance to some
of these groups, as well as work through international organizations and
encourage foreign investment and private donations. While the U.S. Congress and allied
governments are justified in remembering Pakistan's indiscretions over the
course of the Afghan war, it is the responsibility of those nations' leaders to
win over lawmakers and their constituents on why an unstable Pakistan only
means more turbulence for the region and beyond.
These non-profit organizations and other parts of Pakistani civil society, including its long-stifled but not non-existent private sector, may have a chance of improving conditions in the country, drawing on the support of the moderate majority. Pakistani and international charitable organizations are making a small dent in the massive problem set Pakistani confronts, particularly in the realm of education. But there is one fact that Western policy-makers are going to have to accept: many of these players hold Islamist and anti-Western views. As we learned in Egypt and other Arab Spring nations, we cannot expect entities to represent the people of a Muslim nation and not embody some Islamic values. This fact in itself does not make that group extremist or an enemy of the West.
should apply this new understanding to future engagement with Pakistan, while
remaining aware of both the sensitivities of the Government of Pakistan and
those of the U.S. Congress, who remain the stewards of U.S. tax-payer dollars. If the United States, NATO, and Pakistan can
use the Afghan drawdown to reduce tensions and improve security, if only
marginally, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has the potential to more closely
resemble the peace-time relationships maintained with other nations in South
Asia and elsewhere. This would encompass
a balance of international assistance (both through government structures and
non-profits, keeping in line with host nation priorities), free and balanced
trade relationships, and help in developing a dynamic political and economic
Conveniently, the drawdown in Afghanistan also makes it easier for many Pakistani groups to work with Western groups and governments. Many Pakistanis are quick to blame Pakistan's domestic problems on the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan's participation in it. Whether or not this is based in reality, those perceptions drive politics within Pakistan. As the United States and NATO reduce their military presence in the region, Pakistani officials will be less able to blame Western actions for their domestic problems. At the same time, the population will increasingly focus on day-to-day survival rather than regional matters, and non-profits will increasingly seek civilian assistance for their country. The West can meet those calls and gain much good will at a reasonable cost.
Based on its own national and strategic interests, Pakistan has been a tentative ally in the Afghan war. But the United States and its allies cannot write off the population of Pakistan for the shortcomings of its political system. In fact, to do so poses much greater long-term risks, the mitigation of which requires a nation moving towards economic viability whose problems are not spilling into the world around it. Failure to maintain international support to Pakistan means discarding a real chance for progress by walking away before the real work has begun.
Whitney Kassel is a former Assistant for Counterterrorism Policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD SO/LIC), and now serves as a director at The Arkin Group.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
May 2012 will stand as a historic time for Afghanistan. Beginning in Kabul on May 1, Presidents Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), which I had the privilege of attending. It has been followed by a steadily growing wave of additional international support, most recently seen in the signing of a partnership agreement with Germany in Berlin and the imminent signing of a partnership agreement with Australia. The third security transition phase also commenced this past week on May 13, and the month will end with the NATO Summit in Chicago on May 20 and 21. These events illuminate the immense efforts made by the Afghan government and the international community to fulfill their mutual commitments made throughout the Kabul Process that was begun with President Karzai's inauguration in 2009. Each event is an accomplishment on its own, but together they chart a clear course for Afghanistan's future over the "Transformation Decade."
The historic signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States gives both countries an opportunity to solidify our common vision and define our relationship for the years to come. After months of hard negotiations, a commitment has been forged to guide our steps towards a prosperous future built on mutual respect and support between two sovereign nations. The agreement was crafted in the best interests of both countries and to the benefit of regional prosperity and stability. The United States' commitments should serve as a shining example of the opportunities now on the horizon in Afghanistan.
The transition of Afghanistan's security from international coalition forces to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) ranks amongst the most crucial to sustain overall success. Since its start in July 2011, the transition process has seen many successes and is well on its way to being fully completed. Afghanistan's security forces have grown in strength and capacity well ahead of schedule. The ANSF are partnering with international coalition forces on 90 percent of operations and are in the lead 40 percent of the time. These statistics, coupled with the completion of the third security transition phase that put Afghan forces in the security-lead for 75 percent of Afghanistan's population, show just how much progress has been made. While our security forces have proven able to maintain security in areas already transitioned, there are still challenges that require commitments from Afghanistan and the international community throughout the remaining transition period and beyond. Both Afghanistan and its international partners recognize that the success of the transition process and its sustainability is dependent upon continued ANSF capacity improvement and financial support.
For this reason, the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago is crucial to Afghanistan and the effectiveness and sustainability of the ANSF. The NATO Summit will be an opportunity to reaffirm that the close partnership between Afghanistan and the international community will continue beyond 2014 and reflect on the progress made together over the last decade. As agreed upon in Bonn last December, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) nations will announce their support of training, financing and building the capacity of the ANSF after the end of the transition period. It is important to reiterate, though, that the Afghan government is steadfast in our promise to increase our share of financing the ANSF from $500 million in 2015 to total fiscal responsibility after the Transformation Decade.
The commitments to be made in Chicago will have a central role in sustaining the accomplishments of the last ten years. They have already built up additional positive momentum going into the upcoming Kabul Conference focusing on regional cooperation in June and the Tokyo Conference in July where we will outline and agree upon an integrated plan with our international partners to achieve self-sufficiency by developing a sustainable economy by the end of the Transformation Decade.
Ultimately, when it comes to building a stable, self-reliant, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, we are ready and willing to face the challenges ahead.
His Excellency Eklil Hakimi is Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
On May 20th, the United States will host a summit of NATO leaders in Chicago. Afghanistan will feature prominently in the summit's agenda. The recently concluded Strategic Partnership between the United States and Afghanistan provides a promising basis to build a partnership based on commitment to securing Afghanistan's democratic transition and the protection and promotion of rights for Afghan citizens. Delivering on its promises will require avoiding short cuts that carry the illusion of peace, and instead building a partnership with the real ally of stability: the majority of Afghan citizens.
There is a danger that the global debate is losing sight of the need to protect Afghan civilians and to consolidate the hard-won gains of the past ten years. The search for a quick deal in some American policy circles neatly coincide with those of Afghanistan's opportunistic and survival-driven political class, and especially elements within the government. This narrow policy consensus runs contrary to what most Afghans want: the preservation of the progress that has been won at great cost to both Afghans and the international community since 2001.
A sense of anxiety about what might happen after 2014 pervades Afghan society, and was caused primarily by the sidelining of human rights as a political commitment by both the Afghan government and its international partners since 2007. While the government has demonstrated increasing hostility to its human rights obligations, its international supporters have voiced only muted criticism, lacking penalties or action of any kind.
Against the wishes of generations of war victims, all civil war era actors have been granted broad immunity. The passage of the Shia Personal Status Law infringes on the legal rights of Shia women. The widely-praised Media Law that would have enshrined greater freedom of expression has been shelved. Known human rights abusers have been appointed to high-ranking positions within the national police force, while the Presidential Palace has lent its approval -- sometimes overt, sometimes tacit -- to a succession of regressive statements by the Ulema Council regarding women's rights. Afghan women, civil society, and human rights defenders are rapidly losing the space to speak out and organize freely, and these groups worry, with good reason, that government may soon try to silence them altogether.
The vision articulated by Afghans and their international partners in the Bonn Conference in 2001 entailed a commitment to building a democratic Afghanistan in which human rights and the rule of law prevailed. This vision was later reaffirmed by more than 500 delegates from across the country at the 2002 Loya Jirga. While neither of these historic agreements were flawless, as a participant in both I was filled with high expectations and energized with optimism for my country's future.
Whatever its weaknesses, the progressive vision for a post-Taliban Afghanistan provided civil society with room to grow. Hundreds of civic groups, including many devoted to women's rights, sprung up across the country. With international support and the enthusiasm of a new generation of Afghans, the independent media blossomed as never before in Afghanistan's history. But these gains have had little time to take root, and they are now at serious risk of being crushed.
This is the reality of Afghanistan in 2012. How did we get here?
First, since the end of the transition period established by the Bonn Agreement (2004), the Afghan political leadership has failed to implement an inclusive vision for Afghanistan's future. Instead, the government has opted for the politics of tactical, backroom deals as a strategy for guaranteeing their political survival. This brand of reactionary policy-making appeals to the most conservative and violent elements in Afghan society for support, and ignores the interests and aspirations of the vast majority. Unwilling to speak out or act upon major human rights issues, Afghanistan's political leaders have prevented Afghans from following the path that they chose and enshrined in their constitution in January 2004.
The international community has accepted these worrying trends, and has refrained from exerting real political pressure on the government to comply with its international obligations and the Afghan Constitution. Afghan human rights advocates have lobbied tirelessly, but their arguments, evidence, and pleas have been largely ignored. As time has passed, human rights have been mentioned less frequently in international discussions on Afghanistan and this is reflected in official documents. In the most recent U.N. Security Council resolutions on Afghanistan, passed on March 22, 2012, human rights were relegated to a sub-item.
Emboldened by recent international permissiveness, Afghan leaders have increasingly viewed justice and human rights as more of a luxury than an indispensable prerequisite for peace. In December 2007, President Karzai publicly announced that he would not challenge human rights violators and would not implement the Peace, Justice and Reconciliation action plan adopted by his own government in 2005. The vetting process for police reform that had managed to exclude at least 14 notorious figures from reappointment as chiefs of police was frozen indefinitely in 2007.
Other difficulties have aggravated the situation. The president's lack of desire for political development through political parties has hindered the establishment of active and effective political movements in the country.
In the absence of robust, democratic political pathways through which the majority could voice their aspirations, the Palace has relied instead on figures and factions who represent a tiny portion of society. While democratic voices have consistently marginalized, those advocating a non-representative form of conservatism, the Ulema Council, and a powerful minority seeking their own political and economic interests, have therefore exerted a disproportionate influence over the direction of national policy.
A second reason for the decline of the human rights and democracy agendas has had to do with the evolution of international strategy and priorities. Early on, at least rhetorically, Afghanistan's international partners (the United States in particular) embraced human rights reforms as a component of the state-building strategy in Afghanistan. Over time, however, the focus shifted to defeating the insurgency, then to counterterrorism, and then to containing the insurgency. With this shift towards military objectives, the human rights agenda suffered. The United States embraced nearly any party that would oppose the Taliban, regardless of their human rights records. Afghan prisoners were abused in American-run prisons. Night raids continued, providing powerful recruiting narratives to the Taliban who, undeterred, killed civilians in ever larger numbers with each passing year. Continued partnership between the international military and malign elements of the past contributed to a gradual but steady move of the Kabul government toward embracing the same abusive figures.
President Obama's review of the Afghanistan strategy, released in March 2009, further limited the objectives for the American engagement in Afghanistan, dropping the idea of supporting democracy and human rights entirely. Elements within the Afghan government took this cue and began to neglect their own commitments. Indeed, a senior aide to President Karzai told me that the Palace has come to believe that human rights and democracy are not priority issues for the United States because they want to achieve reconciliation; therefore, "we will also relax our practice and policy on that front".
The alliances between some of the members of the international community, the Afghan government, and local warlords have implications that stretch well beyond human rights issues. Militarily and economically empowered by these alliances the warlords have been able to block merit-based upward mobility in the public and private sectors. By dominating political decision-making in the government, they have established dominant roles for their old militia structure members, guaranteeing specific interest groups hefty government and international contracts while protecting their unaccounted wealth.
Since the current structures protect the warlords and enable their domination, they correctly view reform efforts aimed at good governance, rule of law and human rights as a threat that could drive them from power. Consequently, they have aggressively undermined all such reform efforts, actively manipulating systems. Through their influence at the Palace, a small group of wartime leaders are utilizing government appointments to expand their own network rather than serve the public interest. There is little risk of exposure or accountability and a high return. Those who are being formally appointed by the President (but actually at the behest of unaccountable and influential patrons) feel less loyalty to their official boss than to those who nominated them. The public understands that public office is being used to dole out favors to the informal leaders. Ultimately, public trust in the government is severely undermined.
In a desperate move to end almost ten years of military engagement, in 2011 the U.S. and Afghan governments set two potentially conflicting goals by opting to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban while simultaneously beginning the transition out of Afghanistan. In a situation where the Afghan government is increasingly weak, more hostile toward its international allies, and less capable of winning public support, Afghans fear that negotiating with insurgents from a weak position will further undermine human rights -- particularly the gains made with respect to women's rights.
Ordinary Afghans understand that a settlement at the expense of human rights and democracy will yield a very short-lived peace. Rather, such so-called "peace" protocols are likely to usher in a renewed, and more vicious, round of civil war. The key to a lasting peace by contrast is found in respect and protection of the rights of Afghans, ensuring good governance, and delivering justice for the wrongdoings of the past.
To address some of these problems, Kabul and Washington should consider a number of steps:
Build on the Strategic Partnership Agreement
The Strategic Partnership Agreement explicitly restates the shared determination of the United States and the Government of Afghanistan to achieving the goal of a stable and independent state of Afghanistan, ‘governed on the basis of Afghanistan's constitution, shared democratic values, including respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all men and women.' By recognizing and emphasizing the importance of the rights, needs and aspirations of the people of Afghanistan and of democratic values, the agreement is a first step towards reassuring Afghans that constitutional rights and freedoms are non-negotiable. The May conference in Chicago presents an opportunity for the international community to reinforce its commitment to rule of law and human rights in Afghanistan.
Peaceful and timely democratic transfer of power through elections
The end of the constitutional term of President Karzai coincides with the scheduled completion of the transition of security responsibility from international forces to Afghans. The Afghan government must ensure that Afghanistan makes a peaceful democratic transition of political power by 2014. Afghanistan's future stability depends as much on the capability of its security forces and their adherence to human rights and rule of law as it does on a peaceful transition of power to a next elected administration. Both should be key priorities.
President Karzai should therefore announce the date for the 2014 presidential elections, support a genuine electoral reform process and facilitate a peaceful democratic transition of power for the first time in the nation's recent history. The United States, NATO countries, and the United Nations should already be seriously focused on how to support Afghanistan's elections and should take care to learn the hard lessons of 2009 as well as from the positive experiences of 2002, 2004 and 2005.
President Karzai should immediately initiate a clear process for holding to account those who are guilty of past crimes, and clarify that any crimes from now on will meet the full accountability of the judicial process. To begin with, he should implement the government's action plan on Peace, Justice and Reconciliation adopted in 2007.
President Karzai and his government should abandon the politics of the back-room deal and embrace the aspirations of the vast majority for good governance, democracy and human rights. To do so, he must engage the Afghan parliament in the formation of policy, and the international community should provide technical support to parliamentary committees. This support would allow legislators to gain the ability to formulate, present and adopt specific policy options to the government, instead of debating in general terms -- and in a reactionary manner -- executive decisions that have already been made.
President Karzai must provide equal space for pro-democracy and reform voices in policy development and decision-making, and the international community should break its long silence when it comes to bringing onboard pro-reform agendas and voices. To facilitate ownership of national processes, the president should create incentives for political parties to generate alternative policy debates. The political parties and Afghan civil society must engage in a much more aggressive, structured, and realistic advocacy campaign for the implementation of reform agendas, and they should press President Karzai to remove from office those whose acts are undermining his own legacy in human rights and democracy. President Karzai must hold accountable officials who are involved in abusive practices and abandon the practice of simply reshuffling them to other senior positions.
Inclusive Talks with the Insurgents and Clearly Defined Redlines
It is also imperative for the government to show that it has begun -- in practice - to make the protection of human rights and promotion of democratic practices the center of its agenda. The Afghan government must publicly and explicitly assure Afghans that all rights and freedoms enshrined in the Afghanistan Constitution and the gains made in the past decade regarding human rights and democratic development are not negotiable in any talks with the Taliban. The United States must do the same.
Nader Nadery served as Human Rights Commissioner at Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and chairperson of Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) based in Kabul.
Since NATO's Lisbon summit in November 2010, debate has raged over the decision to draw-down troops from Afghanistan by 2014. And in less than a month, NATO is to hold its 25th heads of state summit in Chicago on 20th May. Unsurprisingly, among the summit's major themes will be the seemingly intractable Afghan question, controversy over which has continued with increasingly ferocious attacks by militants - the synchronised 18-hour assault on Kabul on April 16 being an outstanding example - along with persistently strained U.S.-Pakistani relations since NATO airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November. But rather than endlessly debating troop numbers - whose link to stability is at the least exceedingly unclear - NATO allies would be better off focusing on how to maximise the impact of programs which pave the way for long-term stability by dramatically re-shifting the focus of aid funding from security to development.
The full transition of responsibility for Afghanistan's security from NATO to Afghan forces poses deep questions about the efficacy of international intervention and traditional military approaches. For some critics calling for a faster transition to Afghan control, NATO's presence is the problem. Two years ago, NATO Afghan war veteran Lt. Col. Thomas Brouns warned presciently that "the possibility of strategic defeat looms" as "violent incidents" increase in direct proportion to the troop surge. The war is "a losing battle in winning the hearts and minds of nearly 30 million Afghans."
Others argue that a quick NATO withdrawal could be a grave mistake, precipitating a downwards spiral into endless civil war - a view expounded last year by the German military, the RAF, and a British government review ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron. Even the Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak warned of the potentially catastrophic ramifications of a more abrupt withdrawal - no doubt fearing a Taliban come-back in the wake of the vacuum left behind by NATO's departure.
Amidst all the controversy about NATO in Afghanistan, the curious assumption is that the country's stability is somehow purely correlated with troop numbers, rather than underlying socio-economic conditions and political accountability. Indeed, commentators have overlooked the single component of international intervention which has had resounding success - development aid, through Afghanistan's National Solidarity Programme (NSP). Under the programme, the Afghan government disburses grants to village-level elected organisations, Community Development Councils (CDCs), which in turn identify local priorities and implement small-scale development projects.
The NSP has reached out to 24,000 villages, mobilising nearly 70 percent of rural communities across all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces - including enrolling over 100,000 women into new local CDCs. An independent evaluation by academics from Harvard, MIT and the New School found that the NSP had led to "significant improvement in villagers' economic wellbeing" and "their attitudes towards the government" - "reducing the number of people willing to join the insurgents" leading to "an improved security situation in the long run."
Yet the evaluation report also observes that development mitigates militancy only in regions facing "moderate violence" - but not where there are "high levels of initial violence." Here, the impact of the war is palpable - 2011 saw a record number of 3,021 Afghan civilian deaths. And a UN assessment for that year found the average monthly number of "security incidents" - such as gun battles and roadside bombings - was 39 per cent higher than the preceding year.
So if the exit strategy is the right one, it's still not enough. From June 2002 to September 2010, the United States - though the largest NSP donor - has given $528 million to the programme (as well as another $225 million from FY 2010 funds, with Congress appropriating a further $800 million or so). This is a tiny fraction in the total of about $18.8 billion in foreign assistance over the last decade, and much more needs to be done. Over two-thirds of Afghans still live in dire poverty; only 23 per cent have access to safe drinking water; and just 24 percent above the age of 15 can read and write, according to the UN High Commission for Human Rights. Thus, a recent report by the Center for a New American Security urges that the US government "not only continue its [NSP's] funding but should also help expand the program across Afghanistan. Only through steadfast support of the NSP and similarly structured enterprises can hard-won military gains be consolidated into an enduring, Afghan-led peace."
Yet the NSP is a virtual carbon copy of a longstanding development model being implemented just across the border in rural Pakistan, including the Taliban's strongholds in the northwest frontier province: the Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN). As Pakistan's largest NGO, the RSPN has run quietly for nearly thirty years, with a staggering success rate - having mobilised over 4 million Pakistani households through local community organisations, provided skills training to nearly 3 million, and reached approximately 30 million people.
The RSPN's model - replicated so successfully in Afghanistan under the NSP - is distinguished by its unique participatory approach, based on partnership with communities. The programme began in the early 1980s through the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), in the Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan regions. Under the leadership of Nobel Prize nominee Shoaib Sultan Khan, the AKRSP model was replicated by establishing a further ten autonomous Rural Support Programmes (RSP) across three quarters of the country's districts - which together form the umbrella that is the RSPN.
The secret of the RSPN's success is deceptively simple. The poor are mobilised to establish local community organisations where citizens are involved in every aspect of decision-making - designing and selecting projects, managing them, and monitoring expenditures - in projects which have immediate, tangible impact. The programme thus empowers villagers to see themselves as citizens with the skills, tools and acumen to work together in managing disbursement of government funds to lift themselves out of poverty.
In the northwest province of Chitral, for instance, local micro-scale hydro-electricity projects now supply power to over half of the population. Elsewhere, RSPN has empowered locals to establish 1,449 community schools, whose pupils out-perform their peers from government schools, and enrolled 681,000 women in community activism - the largest outreach to poor rural women of any Pakistani organisation. That is why the RSPN's work is so critical to the future of the country - for a strong, representative Pakistani state to emerge, it must be grounded in strong local civil society institutions capable of holding it to account and engaging with it constructively.
But like the NSP, the RSPN receives only a fraction of the overall U.S.-U.K. aid budget to Pakistan. The ongoing debate about troop numbers and drone strikes - while important - has served to distract attention from the critical role of development aid in building resilience to radicalisation. Thus, across the region, the obsession with traditional security solutions has arguably been its own worst enemy. As the countdown to withdrawal continues, the international community must strengthen and expand these proven development models. Otherwise, the quagmire will become an abyss.
Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development (IPRD) in London, author of A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization (2010) among other books, and writer/presenter of the critically-acclaimed documentary film, The Crisis of Civilization (2011). His work on international terrorism has been used by the 9/11 Commission, the Coroner's Inquiry into 7/7, the US Army Air University, and the UK MoD's Joint Services Command & Staff College. He has also advised the British Foreign Office and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and consulted for projects funded by the US State Department, the UK Department for Communities & Local Government.
Paula Bronstein /Getty Images
Pakistan warrants concern, and not just because it is sitting on the fifth largest nuclear arsenal in the world. The country is in the throes of a destabilizing and dangerous energy crisis. It faces gas shortages, and electricity outages of up to 20 hours a day. As a result, factories have been forced into closing. There is double-digit inflation. Infrastructure is crumbling for want of resources. And harrowing stories of the newly impoverished setting themselves on fire or resorting to crime have become the new normal.
Good deeds never go unpunished in Pakistan. The United States, Pakistan's most generous ally, remains public enemy No. 1 for reasons that do not withstand any rational scrutiny. But then Pakistan has never been accused of being terribly rational. As someone invested in Pakistan's progress, I have always maintained the U.S. must provide an energy lifeline to our ally country to establish in real and rapid terms the consideration it accords the 190 million people of Pakistan. If the U.S. were to help solve Pakistan's energy crisis-and it can-there could be no better measure to manage and mitigate anti-America sentiment in the country and no better billboard to showcase that the U.S. means business.
Unfortunately, far too often the urgency of U.S. economic support announcements and photo ops in Islamabad are dulled by inaction or bungled by red tape in Washington. This fuels disenchantment at many levels. Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington last April, Pakistan's finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said his country had "not even received $300 million" of the $1.5 billion in annual economic support promised to Pakistan under the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009.
It is also true that the government led by President Asif Ali Zardari is crippled by compulsions of keeping intact a coalition of disparate parties often at odds with each other. Thus, Mr. Shaikh is the country's fifth finance minister in four years. The turnover at the other key ministries-water and power, and petroleum and natural resources-is just as alarming. The government's capacity for economic and information management also seems woefully inadequate.
Then there are the corruption allegations Mr. Zardari faced in the 1990s and which didn't lead to a single conviction. These are still in circulation and, coupled with Pakistan's governance crisis, provide Zardari critics in Pakistan's freewheeling media and opposition virtually uncontested space to hurl with indignant certitude all manner of accusations against foreign, and local, investments made on his watch. In other words, any projects during the last four years for the economic advancement and eminent good of Pakistan-including the Enhanced Partnership Act with the U.S.-are, in the popular imagination, either Trojan horses or sweetheart deals.
As if things weren't bad enough for Pakistan's image abroad, the country's irreversibly sensational and bizarrely anti-business media gleefully peddles self-fulfilling prophesies of an economic and political meltdown. If you strip down the self-righteous rhetoric, the media in particular is determined that Pakistan's economy fail-at least while Mr. Zardari is around.
We have seen this picture before. In the mid-90s, when Mr. Zardari's assassinated wife, Benazir Bhutto, charmed investors into setting up privately-owned power plants, her government was accused of corruption. When Nawaz Sharif's government took over, it launched "investigations," arresting not only the executives of these foreign and local power companies but also their family members. The effects were disastrous. The investment climate became toxic and would remain so until 9/11. And potential investors like Gordon Wu, who had wanted to invest $6 billion in Pakistan, ran for the nearest exit.
Faced with international censure and arbitration proceedings, Islamabad eventually agreed to a settlement: the power companies reduced their tariffs to afford the government some face saving, and the government rewarded the companies by extending their contracts with public sector power buyers. Today, the "independent power plants" Bhutto set up provide almost 30 percent of Pakistan's total electricity supply. One hopes that Bhutto and Zardari opponents realize how much worse the energy crisis would have been had these power plants not been installed.
Since the summer of 2006, Pakistan has seen recurrent and riotous protests over power shortages. These picked up after the Zardari-led government was elected in 2008 and as outages grew, exacerbated by the government's liquidity problems. The protests have resulted in the destruction of public property-and deaths. The opposition has led several of these protests while simultaneously ensuring through litigation and an unrelenting media trial that no new power generation capacity comes online during Zardari's term. Yet, no one has called out the opposition over its rank contradictions and persecutory power past.
For the last two years, Pakistan's Supreme Court had been hearing three "human rights" petitions, including one filed by a Sharif lieutenant, challenging the installation of fast-track power plants as a short-term solution for the country. On March 30, the eve of another power protest by the opposition, the court delivered its verdict: all "rental power" contracts were declared illegal and rescinded and an independent agency was ordered to launch inquiries in support of the judgment. At 7:40 p.m. that day, we were directed to shut down power supplies to Naudero, Bhutto's constituency. American personnel at the plant have been flown back. Almost all Pakistani staff has been laid off.
In Pakistan's increasingly cynical society, all success is suspect. Unless you're Chinese, all foreign investors are viewed not as risk takers and growth drivers for the Pakistani economy but as usurpers, looters, and worse. After the recent court judgment, even the Ankara-supported "Turkey-Pakistan friendship" power ship has been impounded. And the proposed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is popular not just because it is critically required but because it also provides the added bonus of showing down the United States., which is opposed to the project.
There's also the Tethyan Copper Company, a partnership between Chile's Antofagasta and Canada's Barrick Gold, which spent $220 million working toward a $3.3-billion copper and gold mine in Reko Diq in Pakistan's restive Balochistan province only to be stamped as colonizers by the courts and media. When the company was forced into placing advertisements to push its facts forward in the public domain, it was slapped with a gag order and disallowed to challenge the fevered narrative of misrepresentations against it. Tethyan is headed for international arbitration, an all too familiar venue for foreign investors who put store in Pakistan.
Pakistan is complicated. It hates the U.S., yet America is the second most popular destination for Pakistani immigrants. It resents American economic support, yet complains that there is too little of it. It craves investment, but will rescind legal contracts in paroxysms of nationalist hysteria casting a cloud over every existing and future contract.
America can help. It needs to emphasize to all Pakistani stakeholders-politicians, the judiciary, the Army-that their country must abide by its legal contracts and that it must unreservedly depoliticize the energy sector and the economy. Pakistan must enact a real defamation law that provides economic disincentives to the incendiary media and sets it on a path to self-correction. The U.S. must facilitate capacity building, especially in key Pakistani energy ministries and agencies, to effect durable, long-term economic planning. It can and should provide speedy debt support, for example through the U.S. State Department's Overseas Private Investment Corporation, to expedite energy projects that can visibly and meaningfully improve the lives of Pakistanis. The U.S. must make its aid to Pakistan conditional on the country delivering on these basic and essential reforms.
The opposition and torch-wielding media lynch mob claim to have the best interests at heart of the tens of millions of Pakistanis-whose everyday lives are roiled by energy shortages and rendered meaningless from darkening economic prospects-but if they think they're doing well by the people of Pakistan, they should think again.
David Walters was the governor of Oklahoma from 1990 to 1994. He is the founder and president of Walters Power International, a power solutions firm doing business in over 14 countries, including the U.K. He is a partner in Pakistan Power Resources, LLC, and Walters Power International Limited owns a 51-megawatt power plant in Pakistan.
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan labourers take part in the construction of a bridge at Barikowt, in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province on April 3, 2009.
‘No matter how high the mountain, there is a road to the top' (Afghan proverb)
In Afghanistan, bridges are important. They link families separated by Afghanistan's often mountainous terrain, enable farmers to bring crops to market, and allow everyone - from traders to teachers - to move about more securely.
Last month, as Afghanistan's newly appointed Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, I handed over more than twenty completed projects - including a 460ft bridge and a university community center - to the people of Kapisa province in northeast Afghanistan. The bridge alone will benefit more than 70,000 people.
What relevance does this have for America, especially given longstanding concerns about the reasons for engaging in Afghanistan, the human and financial costs of doing so, and continuing apprehension about plans for transition, and Afghanistan's future stability and prospects?
Well, despite the regular diet of negative news about Afghanistan as we approach the drawdown of international - primarily American - military forces, I believe significant and sustained developmental progress is being achieved.
You might think, that as a government minister, I would say that. But the evidence is compelling.
My ministry manages five nationwide programs. Last year alone they provided direct technical support and funding to villages and districts in every one of Afghanistan's 34 provinces to help meet community-owned, locally agreed development plans. Rural roads and bridges helped connect two million people; access to clean water and sanitation reached two million more. And we helped almost 60,000 people, a third of them women, launch savings groups that will go on to create small and medium-sized businesses. Our work helps reintegrate former insurgents into communities as productive members of society, supporting stabilization efforts by our civilian and military partners. It is long running and life changing.
The major human development indicators are now moving in the right direction - for example, on the number of children in school, or levels of child and maternal mortality - but after thirty years of conflict Afghanistan has started from very low baselines. There is much more to do.
Afghans are increasingly taking responsibility for security and service provision. Under the third tranche of the Inteqal, or transition process, approximately 75% of the population will have seen security responsibilities pass to Afghan forces. That process is scheduled for completion by the end of 2014 but, as we know, it is not without its risks.
The years from transition to 2025 are already being termed a period of ‘transformation,' in which Afghanistan moves from heavy dependence on international donors to a state better able to pay its own way in the world, and make its own decisions. Support from the United States and the rest of the international community has been essential to fostering economic growth, social development, and stronger governance, enabling the Afghan government to begin providing support to 38,000 communities in over three hundred districts throughout 34 provinces.
Even in insecure areas, we have devised innovative mechanisms to deliver critically needed assistance, because development can and does address the root causes of conflict. Reducing poverty removes local grievances that can lead to tacit support for violence. Investing in education and training helps Afghanistan's young men and women find meaningful jobs. For farmers - and four out of five Afghans have a direct involvement with agriculture - promoting alternative, legal ways of generating income, instead of poppy cultivation, reduces insecurity and corruption.
A number of sectoral initiatives - National Priority Programs - are currently being finalized in partnership with international donors. The Tokyo Conference this July will look at those programs, including how they translate into long-term financial support. Discussions will not be easy: a decade more is needed before Afghanistan's economy can generate a substantial proportion of its own budget needs, and the global economic crisis has changed the donor landscape.
In the run-up to Tokyo, there is much the U.S. can do. I believe the Obama administration and Congress should look at a comprehensive package of support:
Now is not a time to cut and run. We know that post-conflict stabilization and development requires decades to complete, but we are a long way from becoming a ‘failed state.' The real and sustainable progress made so far has been achieved at great human and financial cost: the United States' continued commitment to our long-term development will be vital in bringing about a secure, stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan.
Wais Ahmad Barmak, Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development in the Afghan Government, is currently visiting the United States.
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As Sunday's spectacular attack in Kabul showed, the war in Afghanistan may be winding down in Washington, but it is heating up on the ground with spring's arrival.
And in Foggy Bottom and, to a lesser degree, on Capitol Hill, a battle is on for American hearts and minds even as calls for immediate withdrawal grow louder. The objective: to keep Afghan women from falling off the political agenda while Washington and its NATO allies hunt desperately for a diplomatic solution to America's longest-ever war. As the NATO summit in Chicago approaches - and women to date still have no formal role - that fight gets more urgent.
"Any peace that is attempted to be made by excluding more than half the population is no peace at all," said Sec. of State Hillary Clinton at a luncheon for the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, an organization started under President George W. Bush to support programs benefiting Afghan women. "We will continue to stand with and work closely with Afghan women. And we will be working closely with the international community as well, because we all need to be vigilant and disciplined in our support and in our refusal to accept the erosion of women's rights and freedoms."
Former First Lady Laura Bush echoed the Secretary's comments.
"The failure to protect women's rights and to ensure their security could undermine the significant gains Afghan women have achieved," said Mrs. Bush. "No one wants to see Afghanistan's progress reversed or its people returned to the perilous circumstances that marked the Taliban's rule."
Clinton, Bush and their allies face an uphill fight. Today a record-high 69 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting. And the recent alleged killing of unarmed Afghan civilians by an American soldier has cemented public desire to call an end to the war that began just after the attacks of September 11.
It wasn't always this way. In 2001, Washington leaders regularly invoked the plight of women, who had just endured years of Taliban rule that barred them from school and work. Afghan women became something of a cause célèbre worldwide, and the return of women to public life was seen as among the most positive byproducts of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Then-First Lady Laura Bush spoke out in support of Afghan women during a weekly presidential radio broadcast in 2001, and made high-profile visits to women's projects while visiting the country.
A decade later, members of Mrs. Bush's team acknowledge the challenge they face convincing the American public that supporting Afghan women on the way out of the country matters.
"It is hard for people to see the endgame and that is what I think contributes to the frustration," says Mrs. Bush's former chief of staff, Anita McBride. "This is not high on the radar screen because it is challenging and the solution seems so far away."
Those working closely with Sec. Clinton acknowledge the battle to keep women front and center is not easy. But they say they see an increased acknowledgment throughout the State Department and in the president's recent executive order on U.N. Resolution 1325 that women matter when it comes to peace.
"While clearly there is a strong, strong desire for the end of this (war), the big concern is the state of the women -- what happens to Afghan women and that they not somehow be forgotten," says Ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer. "There is a recognition that for the genuine end of conflict and for the ability to reconcile with whomever it is possible to reconcile with, that the women have to be a part of that."
Those who have spoken out about the need to end the war swiftly say they agree.
"I came away strongly feeling that as we do draw down there that we have to retain a focus on these gains and whatever is necessary diplomatically or through our aid, that we can't neglect women," says Rep. Niki Tsongas of a recent trip to Afghanistan. "You have to publicly continue to raise the issue. That is the very least what we can continue to do, to publicly raise the issue and the importance of just trying to protect and secure those gains."
did just that at a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing with Gen. John
"The question is, as we draw down from Afghanistan over the next several years, what can we do to make sure that we don't lose the hard-fought gains for the rights of Afghan women, 50 percent of the population? And what, if any, leverage will we have as we go through this process and after our withdrawal is complete?" she asked.
But is more than rhetorical support from those who support Afghan women's progress even possible?
"It is difficult, because I think that even for those who care very deeply about the status of Afghan women there is a little bit of schizophrenia, because I think some of us recognize that whatever the future is for Afghan women, the kind of military footprint that we have in Afghanistan can't go on another decade," says Rep. Donna Edwards, who co-chairs the Afghan Women's Task Force in Congress. "I believe that it is possible for us to construct a strategy where we make those kinds of civilian investments that will enable investments where it is possible to support women entrepreneurs, to support women in education, to support women as parliamentarians, I think it is possible to do that and I don't think we have too many more options left."
So what do the women at the center of all the discussion think of all the discussion of their future? Most say they simply want to be part of the conversation about their own country, particularly as they work to elbow their way into the discussions in Chicago next month. And they want to know what, exactly, leaders of the international community means when they say to women that "we will not abandon you," as Sec. Clinton has repeatedly.
women are no more the priority for the world, that is true," says Samira Hamidi
of the Afghan Women's Network. "The
international community is in a rush for withdrawal, but at the same time they
keep repeating and pushing the theme that we will remain with you."
Hamidi says women want clarity on what, exactly, those assurances mean. Says Hamidi, "in ten years whatever has happened for women is because of the struggle and participation of women. We are still fighting for our rights, for our inclusion, to be part of decisions and to be decision makers."
What Hamidi and other women leaders say they seek are assurances that any Taliban negotiations will keep in tact the Afghan constitution of the past decade, with its guarantee of equal opportunities, including the right to work and go to school, as well as a set-aside of a quarter of parliamentary seats for women. More than two million Afghan girls are now in school, with thousands in university, and civil society leaders want them to stay there. Women also want to be at the table, not outside the room, in any diplomatic discussions that will decide their country's future shape. That starts with Chicago next month.
Women say they are not asking for favors, but to be part of their own societies. They can speak up for themselves, and they are, but they could use the backing of big-dollar international donors who will be funding their government's security forces for years to come.
"The worrying part for me in 2014 is not that the international community is leaving -- troops are leaving, they have to leave this is a reality. We can't expect them to stay in Afghanistan for years and years, but for me what is important is how powerful our own security forces will be in 2014, how responsive they will be to women's needs. Those are things that the international community can really make their funding conditional on."
Those who support Afghan women say that if the world wants to see any progress achieved in Afghanistan continue, it will support civil society leaders like Hamidi - between now and 2014, and beyond.
"Increasingly, across the board, people get the fact that this is pragmatic, that you can't get from here to there on the items all of us want to see [in Afghanistan] without women," Verveer says. "Is it a guarantee? Well, we can't write the future. None of us knows exactly what is going to happen. We are dealing with a hypothetical and the best we can all do is to make sure that everything is in place as best as it can be as this continues to go forward."
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, Afghan president Hamid Karzai surprised U.S. and coalition officials by announcing the creation of a special tribunal and prosecutor to seek redress for the almost two year old Kabul Bank scandal. And earlier this month, the Afghan House of Representatives rejected the proposed federal budget in part because of the allocation of U.S. $80 million to Kabul Bank. Already, the Central Bank has poured $450 million into the beleaguered bank after it lost almost a billion dollars in the 2010 financial scandal. This money has been traced to interest-free loans given to Mahmoud Karzai, brother of President Karzai, to buy shares in the bank itself, and also to former CEO Khalil Frozi, who used bank funds to finance the President's 2009 election campaign.
Though Afghan authorities arrested Frozi and Kabul Bank founder Sherkhan Farnood approximately nine months after the crisis, it was recently reported that neither can be found in their jail cells, and both are collecting rent from tenants occupying Dubai villas bought with illegally obtained loans. A year after the debacle, only 10% of the missing money had been recovered.
Kabul Bank is more than a symbol of the pervasive corruption plaguing Afghanistan's government, it is the largest private financial institution in the country and an integral piece of infrastructure that has direct consequences for the country's security and financial stability. If Afghanistan is to have any chance at a legitimate economy and stable future, it will need an efficient and trustworthy financial system.
In particular, Kabul Bank is a conduit for government payments to Afghan soldiers, police, and teachers. The United States aims to reduce American troop presence by 2013 and shift security duties to the Afghan military and police force. Absolutely vital to a "successful" drawdown is the establishment of a reliable and transparent payment system. The rampant corruption plaguing Kabul Bank shows that traditional banking systems may not be suitable for the Afghan economy at all. However, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is working with Afghan companies to provide an alternate solution - mobile money.
In the past year, mobile phone-based money transfers have taken off in Afghanistan. Three out of the four largest mobile network operators now offer mobile money services, two of which were launched in the last six months. Roshan, the telecommunication company that deployed the country's first mobile money product in 2008, M-Paisa ("paisa" meaning money in Dari), has grown to 1.2 million registered customers that can receive salaries, pay bills, and make domestic financial transactions over their mobile phones. Last month, the company announced a partnership with Western Union to allow these customers to receive transfers from around the world directly to their mobile phones.
USAID has made mobile money central to Afghanistan's financial development. According to USAID, while less than five percent of Afghans have access to a bank account, more than 60 percent of the population has access to a mobile phone. To accelerate the pace of its development, USAID has allocated more than $2 million to mobile network operators as part of its Mobile Money Innovation Grant Fund, and spearheaded the forming of the Afghan Mobile Money Operators Association. Currently, there are five USAID mobile phone payment projects underway, which range from the payments of teacher stipends to police force salaries, and 14 more mobile transfer projects in planning, according to a USAID official who spoke off-the-record. With the scaling of mobile money, an estimated $60 million annually could be retrieved that had been lost to corruption and fees.
Although promising, mobile money is not entirely immune to the harsh realities on the ground. In 2009, the Afghan government worked with Roshan to pilot a mobile phone-based salary payment system to 54 officers of the Afghan National Police Force who had previously received cash from their superiors. When the policemen took their SIM cards to the local M-Paisa offices to directly collect their entire salaries, they thought they had received a 36 percent raise, while what they were really seeing was a full salary untouched by crooked officials, according to a U.S. Air Force Colonel overseeing the project.
However, a confidential State Department cable released by Wikileaks revealed that a corrupt Afghan commander, frustrated that he was no longer able to skim off the top, fraudulently registered phones and collected his officers' salaries. In a separate incident, the same commander ordered subordinates to handover their SIM cards and attempted to retrieve the salaries himself. Though the local M-Paisa employee refused to hand over the salaries to the commander, he was forced to go into hiding for fear of retribution. Despite direct reports to the Ministry of Interior and pressure from the U.S. Government, no one has been prosecuted.
The ability to efficiently pay Afghanistan's security apparatus is critical to any post-war strategy, especially in the face of a U.S. drawdown and the ousting of private security firms. It is especially important for USAID efforts because $899 million worth of development programs they administer are in jeopardy without a functioning security force, according to a recent letter from Steven Trent, the acting Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Though USAID says this claim is exaggerated, it still highlights the significance of dealing with the systemic corruption within Afghanistan's financial system and in particular Kabul Bank, given its central role in government payments to soldiers.
Despite the importance of anti-corruption measures to security efforts, a clear disconnect between Afghan and U.S. officials gives reason to believe that Karzai's recent announcement to prosecute those involved in the Kabul Bank crisis will not amount to much. As Afghans rushed to withdraw $800 million in deposits in the two weeks following the scandal's breaking, Mahmoud Karzai insisted the bank was stable and not in danger of collapse while simultaneously asking the U.S. Treasury for monetary help in averting a crisis. When the U.S. refused a direct injection of capital, President Karzai publicly blamed the collapse on a lack of foreign technical support rather than the illegal activities of the bank's leadership. A few months later, he banned U.S. government advisers from working with the country's central bank, as they attempted to assist Afghan officials in regulating the financial system and tracking foreign aid, both of which were conditions for releasing $1.8 billion of donor funds.
While the ideal situation for USAID is an end to corruption's hold on financial infrastructure, the reality is that they are working within a delicate political climate. According to a NYT/CBS News poll released this month, almost 70% of American respondents want an end to U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan. With this dramatic fall in American public opinion and election year politics putting the focus on a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops and transition to Afghan forces, the Obama administration is loath to engage in a battle with the Karzai government over corruption that is almost guaranteed to fail. Yet there are still ways for USAID to recognize the restraints of corruption and push forward; one of the promising solutions involves integrating mobile money to build a stronger financial system and more transparent post-transition payment system.
After all, the reality is also this: the results of development projects will have significant bearing on America's legacy in a country where it has spent over 10 years, half a trillion dollars, and countless lives. USAID's success, and ultimately that of the entire U.S. mission in Afghanistan, will depend on our ability to acknowledge that "success" is not an all or nothing proposition. Corruption exists but that doesn't mean that the development community cannot adapt to work within its confinements.
Anjana Ravi is a Research Associate with the New America Foundation's Global Assets Project, where Eric Tyler is a Program Associate.
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March 12 was my last day in Helmand, concluding in a joint transfer ceremony with Maj. Gen. John Toolan of the U.S. Marines to our successors. It's a good moment to take stock of progress.
Helmand Province has been transformed in the past two years, building on foundations lain in the preceding years by ISAF and Afghan forces. Threats still persist - as the tragic deaths last week of six British soldiers showed. But the situation is very different from 2010. When I visited Marjah for the first time that July we were not able to leave the military base because of high levels of insecurity. That summer and autumn Royal Marines, U.S. Marines, and Afghan troops took heavy casualties in Sangin. Almost all of northern Helmand was accessible only by air. Even in central Helmand large parts of Nad-Ali were under insurgent control.
A year on, Nad-Ali was a 20-minute drive from Lashkar Gah. In December, Governor Gulab Mangal took Afghan parliamentarians to Marjah to meet local officials in a café where my successor and I had lunch the month before. In January, Governor Mangal was the first governor in 30 years to drive from the northern District of Kajaki down to Lashkar Gah in the centre, approximately a 130 kilometre drive. Last month 3,100 Sangin elders registered for its first local election. Seven districts now draw funds from Afghan systems under the District Delivery Program.
Life for ordinary people is changing for the better. Today 120,000 children go to school - a quarter of them girls - a 50% rise from late-2010. In the last two years 744 kilometres of roads were built, 45 major canal assets were repaired, and the number of justice officials doubled. Currently, 49 health centres are open, up from 27 in 2009. Since July 2011, 3,500 students completed vocational training in Lashkar Gah and Gereshk, with over 70% of those finding new jobs. By November, 20,000 will have graduated from 15 training centres across Helmand, including five centres for women.
This remarkable progress has come through the efforts of an exceptional team of Afghan and international partners, led for four years by Governor Mangal. His firm leadership and the service and sacrifice of Afghan and international security forces have been the foundation for improved security, new freedom of movement and a better life for the people of Helmand.
The Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) typifies the combined team. A U.K.-led, multi-national, civil-military body, it includes over 200 British, U.S., Danish, Estonian and Afghan staff: diplomats, military officers, civil police, engineers, lawyers and experts in agriculture, infrastructure, governance and other fields. It is a mark of progress in Helmand that the PRT is now drawing down as we hand over to Afghan leadership. But its work is not yet finished. Few now dispute Helmand's progress. One example is in education, from 2010 to date, there has been a 26% increase in number of schools open and a 49% and 58% rise in male and female students respectively.
The task ahead is to ensure it is sustained to 2014 and beyond - when international assistance will continue, but in different forms from today - as our own numbers reduce. Considering the progress made since 2010, this is a realistic goal.
Plenty of challenges remain - and won't end by 2014. More work is needed to develop the Afghan Army and Police. Key PRT priorities are to strengthen the systems of governance, in particular links to Kabul, investment in economic infrastructure - roads, canals, power - and facilitating private sector growth for jobs and prosperity. It's a demanding agenda but a good roadmap for the future, with foundations that have become progressively stronger since 2010.
Michael O'Neill is the outgoing U.K. Senior Representative, Southern Afghanistan.
DAVID BEBBER/AFP/Getty Images
Whipsawed by a long-drawn U.S.-led military operation and a decade of erratic international economic assistance, Afghanistan is in shambles. With economic development always considered secondary to security concerns, little has been done in the past decade to establish a sustainable Afghan economy. While the international community has tried to generate a steady flow of aid, the Afghan government is still unable to cater to the population's basic needs. Moreover, the little economy we have seen evolve in Afghanistan since 2001 is predominantly based on the international security presence. The bulk of Afghanistan's gross domestic product (GDP) stems from international aid, and the impending 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of international combat troops will be accompanied by a parallel reduction in aid money. Thus, as the tide of war recedes, a large chunk of the economy will also disappear, posing an increasing threat to stability. The country's current economic trajectory beyond 2014 is fraught with corruption and uncertainty. However, despite the dire situation, Afghanistan's economic transition has received only minor policy attention, with the focus remaining on the ongoing security transition. Thus the question remains: How will Afghanistan sustain its economy beyond 2014?
The decrease in foreign assistance is like to cause today's economic bubble to burst, potentially plunging the country into an economic recession. And if the security environment further deteriorates, the country could face full economic collapse. A financing gap of 25 percent of GDP by 2022 due to increased military and non-military spending by the Afghan government further puts Afghanistan's economic stability at risk. While the international donor community can help to prevent a total collapse of the economy by decreasing aid gradually, the key to a prosperous Afghanistan is to invest in the long-term economic advantages the country has to offer.
One such advantage may lie in Afghanistan's geographic location. The New Silk Road strategy, often promoted by the United States, aims at linking Afghanistan with its South and Central Asian neighbors, transforming the country into a nucleus for regional trade. Focus should also be placed on rebuilding the oil and gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and on to Pakistan and India. If done right, these initiatives might enable Afghanistan to attract increased foreign investment, connect the country to foreign markets, and promote growth, gradually reducing its dependence on foreign aid. However, the key to such a scenario lies in Afghanistan's relations with regional players, in particular Pakistan. Given its location, Pakistan is expected to serve as the main transit route for Afghan exports and access to the port cities of Gwadar and Karachi will remain crucial to Afghanistan's development. However, a volatile relationship with its eastern neighbor could mean a precarious dependency for Afghanistan.
Another potential economic trigger may be found in Afghanistan's untapped mineral reserves, ostensibly valued in the trillions of dollars. Based on cautiously optimistic assumptions by the World Bank, the iron ore project at Hajigak and copper mine at Aynak could deliver $2 to $3 billion to the extractive industry, with each deposit potentially generating over half a billion dollars in government revenue in just a few years. The mining industry may appear at first glance to be a potential panacea for the Afghan economy, but it will take decades before the country can reap the benefits of such a project. The Afghan mineral reserves require significant investments in infrastructure, and more importantly, effective and accountable governance that can efficiently and transparently manage revenues. Furthermore, in 2010, of the total $17 billion government expenditure, only $1.9 billion of the spending were drawn from Afghanistan's own sources of revenue; the rest: foreign assistance. Hence, besides the projected tax revenues and some foreign aid, even if mineral resources did manage to generate the estimated revenue, the Afghan budget would still face an annual deficit of $7 billion.
Rebuilding after more than a decade of conflict must also involve encouraging growth in Afghanistan's nascent private sector, a sector that has been stifled to some degree by the international donor presence. In a "donor drunk" economy, there are a large number of foreign, private NGOs, which dominate the private sector and make entry into it difficult for Afghan organizations. Although some of these private entities are effective development organizations at the grassroots level, many carry a negative perception among the Afghan people, who see the ubiquitous "briefcase NGOs" as money-making mechanisms for the people involved. Meanwhile, the influx of foreign money and employers has also artificially inflated labor costs for low-skilled workers over the past years, and has made Afghanistan an attractive venue for external laborers from neighboring countries such as Pakistan. However, as the flow of aid dwindles, those who have been paid hefty salaries over much of the past decade for low-skilled work for foreign entities may now prove more affordable to Afghan businesses, and will also open up more jobs for Afghan workers. While the initial transition phase from a military focused economy to a regular one will be difficult, it will leave room for a more long-term, sustainable economy to develop.
Regardless of Afghanistan's many potential sources of revenue, any real progress will be limited without the long-term support of the international community. While the West's future commitment to Afghanistan is vague at best, the increasing number of strategic partnerships with key allies signals a willingness by certain powers to remain involved in shaping Afghanistan's future beyond 2014. In the past week, Afghanistan has signed strategic partnership agreements with key European allies such as the UK, France, and Italy that ensure an enduring commitment and cooperation with Afghanistan in key areas, including economy, security, and governance. While only time will tell if the West really will stay committed to Afghanistan, this week's agreements are at least a step in the right direction.
Similarly, any future foreign aid funneled by the West to the Afghan government is effectively futile without properly addressing the raging corruption and lack of transparency and accountability in public finances. As the world's second most corrupt nation, any failure by the West and the Afghan government in tackling this menace in the so-called "transformation decade" would mean repeating and wasting yet another inefficient ten years of international assistance.
Today, as U.S. and NATO troops prepare to assume a lighter military presence, many Afghans fear a serious economic downturn when foreign aid and spending recede, leaving Afghanistan with little or nothing to fall back on. It is still uncertain if and how the Afghan government will function after 2014 without an open-ended $8 to $10 billion yearly commitment from the United States and Europe. However, responsibility for a stable and secure Afghanistan ultimately rests with the Afghans themselves, and there is still a sense of optimism among the Afghan people about the future of their country. The Afghan government, for its part, must foster transparency and accountability in public finances drawn from foreign aid, and work to cut leaks that enable corruption. If these reforms and the myriad of other challenges go unaddressed, the hard work and accomplishments of the past decade could easily unravel and ultimately lead to an even more troubled Afghanistan than we have seen in the past ten years.
Javid Ahmad, a native of Kabul, is Program Coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC. Louise Langeby is a Program Associate with the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels. The views reflected here are their own.
AREF YAQUBI/AFP/Getty Images
As Yogi Berrafamously put it, "It's déjà vu all over again." Amid a looming budget standoff,a presidential election cycle in full swing, and the popular dissatisfaction ofboth the left and the right, the United States has arrived -- yet again -- at acritical juncture in its war in Afghanistan, with key decisions being debatedconcerning the post-surge scenario and the prospects of political reconciliationwith various militant groups. The tragedy is that, much like its previousiterations, the current round of the Afghanistan debate in Washington isriddled with a staggering number of mischaracterizations. While the Cold Warproduced a cohort of able Soviet specialists, the decade-long war inAfghanistan has so far failed to produce sufficientregional expertise in the United States (this reasonably comprehensive list, for example,identifies just 107 Afghanistan-watchers in the United States).
Consequently, anumber of questionable assumptions about the Afghan people -- concerning theirattitudes to foreigners, their history, their society, and their values -- gounchallenged. Historicalanalogiesand socioeconomicdata are regularly manipulated by various parties to validate their ownbiases and preconceptions, and readingsof Afghan historyare, when not completely erroneous, unapologeticallyWestern-centric. For example, onecommon view that has gainedcirculation among think-tankers, policymakers, and congressional staffersis that a majority of Afghans are inherently hostile to the United States. Yet this viewpoint is not borne out by polling data, however imperfect. Thelast pollconducted by ABC News, the BBC and, ARD German TV, for example, says that nearlyseven in 10 Afghans support the presence of U.S. forces in their country.
Another and perhapsmore damaging misperception is of Afghanistan as the "graveyardof empires": a historically insignificant strategic backwater where greatcivilizations -- inevitably European ones -- ended up mired in ruinous war. Buteven a cursory examination of the region's history makes a mockery of this nowentrenched concept. During his conquests, Alexander of Macedon spent about twoyears solidifyinghis control of what is today Afghanistan and Central Asia, referred to inhis day as Bactria and Sogdiana. In fact, his army chose to reverse its coursein today's Punjab, over 200 miles to modern Afghanistan's east, afterthe Battleof the Hydaspes. The 19th-century British Empire, despitean initial setback, wonsubsequent engagements against the Afghans in its bid to create a bufferzone to British India's northwest. And the defeat of the Soviet military in the1980s was only made possible with American,Pakistani, and Saudi support.
The "graveyard of empires" canard also largely ignores non-Western history. Ancient and medievalAfghanistan was in fact at the heart of a number of major civilizations,including the GreekBactrian states; the KushanEmpire, which was a contemporary of imperial Rome; and, from the 10th to 12th centuries, the Ghaznavidsultanate, whoserulers made regular military forays into the subcontinent. The great MughalEmpire, at its zenith perhaps the most prosperous realm on Earth, had itsfoundations in what is today's Afghanistan, when its progenitor Baburestablished a presence in the region between Kabul and Peshawar. Count, on topof all this, several centuries of sustained Persian rule over the region.
In addition topopular misconceptions of Afghan xenophobia and historical backwardness, argumentsare regularly setforth about theincompatibility of Afghan societywith democracy.Although Afghanistan does have a history of underdeveloped democraticinstitutions, there are many reasons to question this blanket assessment.Definitional problems certainly persist: For many rural Afghans, democracyconnotes unlimited freedoms, rather than responsible and self-determinedgovernance. During the 1970s and 1980s, Soviet forces and their Afghan clientsoften called themselves democrats, further adding to confusion about the termin the minds of many Afghans. At the same time, there are mechanisms -- shuras,jirgas -- that, though hardly Jeffersonian, are analogous to the town hallsthat formed the bedrock of early American democracy. In this year's edition ofthe reasonably reliable Asia Foundation surveyof Afghanistan -- which polled 6,348 Afghans from all 34 provinces -- anoverwhelming 69 percent of Afghans polled say they are satisfied with the waydemocracy works in Afghanistan.
Ethnic politics isanother common source of confusion, with regular calls now heard inWashington for a soft partition of the state, creating a Taliban-dominated "Pashtunistan" separated from a confederation of provinces dominated by ethnicTajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks. Soft partitions, which were also advocatedin the case of Iraq not that long ago by U.S. Vice President JoeBiden, may appear to be easy and seductive solutions to pacifying complexpost-colonial societies overrun by civil war. But among otherproblems, they present a moral quandary, implicitly (thoughunintentionally) opening the door to ethnic cleansing. A cursory look athistory tells us that the partition of mixed political entities has almostalways been accompanied or preceded by ethnic cleansing or immense sectarianviolence: Consider India, Palestine, Bosnia, or Cyprus. Afghanistan'spopulation is heterogeneous, and given the commitment to establishing apluralistic and democratic state, calls for the country's de facto or de jurepartition appear both irresponsible and impractical.
Just as there areseveral peculiar narratives about Afghan society and history in steadycirculation, thereis also growing skepticism aboutthe United States' abilityto prosecute theAfghanistan war, with enormousdivergences between official U.S. and Afghanperspectives. One reason often cited for limiting the United States'involvement is the financial burden that the Afghanistan war represents in an era ofausterity. But according to the Congressional ResearchService, the war in Afghanistan will cost the United States an estimated$114 billion this year, a mere 3 percent of the federal budget, and a muchsmaller fraction of the American economy. This appears to be a small investmentrelative to the importance to American foreign policy and national security ofgetting Afghanistan right.
Somecommentators make theargument that the Afghanistan war is a sideshow to other forms of securitycompetition, particularly in East Asia -- that, in essence, the continued U.S.involvement in Afghanistan distracts from looming threats to U.S. securityposed by other great powers such as China. This is questionable for at leasttwo reasons. Firstly, other major powers -- including China, India, Russia, andIran, all of whom see Afghanistan as part of their extended neighborhoods -- areclosely watching developments affecting the U.S. position there. Americansuccess or failure will resonate in Moscow and Beijing, as well as New Delhiand Tehran. Secondly, the United States is not confronted with a binary choicebetween prosecuting the Afghanistan war and retaining a military presence againstmajor state threats. The United States has faced multiple security challengesbefore; the resources required to tackle them are quite different from oneanother; and U.S. military resources dedicated to securing Europe and theAsia-Pacific region have been steadilydeclining regardlessof investments in Afghanistan.
Finally, it is widely believed today inWashington that the Taliban enjoy popularpublic support, particularly among the ethnic Pashtun population ofAfghanistan. If true, it is certainly not reinforced by extant survey data. Noris the Afghan public weary of the United States' intensified involvement. Accordingto the Asia Foundation survey, aplurality of Afghans (46 percent) believes that the country is headed in the rightdirection, compared with 35 percent who believe otherwise. What is even moreencouraging, only 11 percent of Afghans have a lot of sympathy for armed opposition groups,half the proportion who expressed similar sentiments two years ago. In that sameperiod, those who have "no sympathy at all" for the Taliban have almost doubledto 64 percent of the population. Despite frustrations with the ability of the currentgovernment to deliver, Afghans express optimism about democracy as a principle,associating it most closely with peace and freedom. The United States, suchpolls clearly reveal, should not fool itself with undue pessimism. Its effortsare gradually beginning to bear fruit.
Currently,Afghanistan's fledgling state, though challenged frequently by security, governance,and development problems, has an elected government and an internationalpresence to contribute to the work of nation-building. Despite the ongoinginsurgency, widespread corruption, and the daily risk of arbitrary orextrajudicial killing, the Afghan people continue to strive for normalcy intheir day-to-day lives and hope for peace and prosperity in the future. Withthat in mind, the pontification of a few pundits and the exigencies ofnear-term politics should not lead to poor or rash decision-making. A balancedview of Afghan public opinion, history, culture, and politics -- and, just asimportantly, of the United States' ability to shape these factors in advancingits national security interests -- is crucial as Washington debates a decisionthat will have important regional and international implications for decades tocome.
JavidAhmad, a native of Kabul, is program coordinator and Dhruva Jaishankar is program officer with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the UnitedStates in Washington, D.C. The views reflected here are their own.
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At the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn, Germanylast week, 85 countries affirmed their commitment to Afghanistan for the decadefollowing the 2014 transition, and highlighted gains over the past 10 years inthe areas of security, women's rights and the capacity of governmentinstitutions. They also acknowledged the reversible nature of this progress, aswell as the significant work left to be accomplished. Previousdiscussions on Afghanistanwithin the international community have exclusively addressed the transitionperiod between now and 2014. This conference introduced the concept of a muchneeded blueprint for the years following the transition: the "transformation decade"of 2015-2024. This blueprint details two initial milestones: the May 2012 NATOsummit in Chicago, where an announcement is anticipated regarding long-term AfghanNational Security Force funding (ANSF), and a July 2012 conference in Japan, wheremore details regarding international economic support will be announced. Thoughthe December 5 Bonn conference, eclipsed in part by Pakistan'slast minute withdrawal, fell short of announcing major breakthroughs in thepeace process (against high expectationscreated by Bonn 2001), it was an important first step in acknowledging themagnitude of the task that remains unfinished. Now that we have affirmed our longterm commitment in spirit, tangible demonstrations are essential in order tobuild momentum and avoid the perception of empty promises. The internationalcommunity and Afghanistanshould proceed to the next step of defining the first concrete details in theblueprint's foundation.
As the 2011 Bonn conferenceconclusions stated, "this renewed partnership between Afghanistan and theInternational Community entails firm mutual commitments in the areas ofgovernance, security, the peace process, economic and social development andregional cooperation." The United States should demonstrate this long-termcommitment to Afghanistan in the form of a formal strategic partnershipendorsed by both nations and announced as soon as possible. It should reflect planned troop reductions (33,000by the end of summer 2012), but maintain U.S. advisory and counterterrorismcapabilities beyond 2014, through the next Afghan political administration in2019. This force would sustain the tempo of counterterrorist operations andprovide professional advice and enablers to the Afghan army and police. Itshould number 10,000 to 25,000 personnel and could be reduced as the ANSFdemonstrate their post-transition competence through the 2014 elections andinto the next political administration. U.S. personnel numbers could alsobe reduced by coalition contributions. Counterterrorist operations should focuson al-Qaeda's attempts to relocate in remote areas of Afghanistan, aswell as target the leadership of insurgent groups who refuse to reconcile andcontinue to challenge the stability of the government. Advisory and enablingforces should focus on the professional development and training of the Afghanarmy and police, as well as their effective performance in the field.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,in her openingremarks at Bonn stated: "...the United Statesis prepared to stand with the Afghan people, but Afghans themselves must alsomeet the commitments they have made, and we look forward to working with themto embrace reform, lead their own defense, and strengthen their democracy."Afghans should consider improving their government by empoweringprovincial-level authorities and reducing corruption. Both measures areessential to the condition-setting that must take place prior to seriousnegotiations with insurgents. Each province should be granted the right toselect its own governor and to employ independent fiscal, legislative, andconflict resolution powers. Provincial government employees should be hiredfrom within the province and should answer to provincial leaders. Internationalfinancial aid for projects like medical clinics, roads, schools and electricityshould be funneled directly to the provinces in order to create rapid publicsupport. These measures, over time, would bring the power and resources of thegovernment to parts of the country where Kabul'sleadership is viewed as corrupt and incompetent as a result of nepotism,cronyism and its management of funds. Atthe same time, anti-corruption efforts from within the government must beintensified. Afghans should enact laws consistent with The Afghan NationalAnti-Corruption Strategy. Continuedcoalition and international assistance through this decade in the form ofadvice, investigation, and prosecution is essential. More effective localgovernance and courts would also serve to undermine the appeal of localconflict resolution currently offered by insurgents.
Some reforms empowering provincialand district governance have already been planned. In the spring of 2010, theAfghan Government's Independent Directorate of Local Governance published its Sub-nationalGovernance Policy. This policy is comprehensive and, if resourced,supported, and given time, would significantly enhance the contribution oflocal government to Afghan quality of life. This will take time and require thecontinued commitment of the UnitedStates and the coalition to educate Afghancivil servants. This policy appropriately calls for and schedules elections ofprovincial, district, and village councils and should be modified toincorporate the election of provincial and district governors. Should Afghansdesire these measures, the constitution would have to be modified through theassembly of a constitutional loya jirga. This initiative could be a part of Afghanistan'snational dialogue in the run-up to the 2014 election and perhaps lead to apost-election loya jirga.
Without U.S.and international commitment through the end of this decade, Afghanistan will likely fall backinto the civil war it experienced in the early 1990s. As fighting spreads, India and Pakistan will back their Afghanproxies and the conflict could intensify. This situation would not only createopportunities for safe haven for extremists, but also invite a confrontationbetween adversarial and nuclear-armed states. The potential for such an outcomeruns counter to U.S.and coalition interests.
Bonn 2001 began a journey toward Afghanistan'sstability and representative government that has demanded great sacrifice byAfghans, Americans, and other members of the coalition. Bonn 2011 continues thejourney and acknowledges the requirement for long term international commitmentand Afghan resolve. The journey has come far from its humble beginning, butrequires sustained international support and American leadership to remain oncourse.
COL Mark Fields is aMilitary Fellow at the Center for Strategic Research, part of National DefenseUniversity's Institute for National Strategic Studies. He has served in Afghanistan and is theauthor of "AReview of the 2001 Bonn Conference and Application to the Road Ahead inAfghanistan." The views expressed are his alone, and do not necessarilyrepresent those of National Defense University, the Department of Defense, orthe U.S. Government.
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Ten years ago, Afghanistan had one of the world's worsthealth care systems. Most trained health professionals had left the country,and there were few functioning medical facilities. The Taliban had effectivelybanned women from receiving health care. As a result, an estimated one in fourchildren died under the age of five, and maternal mortality was estimated to bethe highest in the world - data collected at that time suggests one in tenwomen died of pregnancy-related complications. Life expectancy was a meager 45 years,according to the United Nations. Afghans were dying from simple, preventableillnesses -- such as diarrhea and bronchitis -- that literally cost pennies to treat.
In 2002, the newly formed Afghan government began workingwith the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and otherinternational donors to restart a viable health care system. The effort wasbased on a few simple premises. First, focus on getting low-cost, low-tech,high-impact treatments to the largest number of Afghans possible, particularlyin rural areas. Second, bring together as many partners as possible -- governmentofficials, international donors, and non-governmental organizations -- tosupport a common ‘blueprint' for primary care delivery and guaranteed access tocare in all parts of the country. Third and most important, ensure Afghanscould develop their own health institutions, so that access to basic health carewould continue in the long term.
With this approach in mind, the Afghan government, withstrong support from the U.S. government and other donors, began to roll out abasic package of health services to millions of Afghans. As a result, access to basic health serviceshas risen from 9 percent in 2001 to more than 60 percent today.
The results are of this effort are documented in the newlyreleased AfghanistanMortality Survey 2010 the first comprehensive, national survey of keyhealth and quality of life indicators. The findings released last week in Kabul paint a clear picture ofremarkable progress.
Whereas maternal health care was effectively unavailableunder the Taliban, today six in ten women see a trained care provider duringpregnancy, family sizes are down from more than six children per mother toapproximately five, and skilled assistance during childbirth has more thandoubled. As a result, significantly fewerwomen are dying from pregnancy-related causes than they did just a decade ago,and life expectancy has risen to about 62 years, up some 15-20 years fromprevious estimates.
While donor contributions will remain critical to thesector's viability for years to come, Afghans themselves are increasinglyshouldering the financial costs of improving and expanding the healthsystem. Government contributions to thehealth sector are growing and the Ministry of Public Health continues to seekways to increase revenues and reduce cost. This spirit of self-reliance is animportant reminder of the sustainable results that development partnerships candeliver, even in places haunted by conflict: longer lives, healthier familiesand the chance for children to live past their fifth birthdays. It also develops faith in government, which iscritical for Afghanistan to overcome its struggle with violent extremism.
Both the Afghan government and the international communitymust build on these remarkable achievements and learn from this successfulpartnership. During a time of continuedviolence and pessimism about Afghanistan's future in some quarters, tens ofthousands of men, women and children who would not have survived continued Talibanrule are alive today because of the partnership between the Afghan people,health care providers and the international community.
Despite these gains, Afghans continue toface serious challenges and a long-term partnership between Afghanistan and theinternational community remains critical. One in 13 children dies before their first birthday, one in 10 childrenin Afghanistan dies before age five, and one Afghan woman dies from pregnancy-relatedcauses every two hours. As Afghansincreasingly assume responsibility for their own welfare, they build on theresults of generous investments from the American people and other allies,coupled with capable, dedicated Afghan leadership in the health sector. The extraordinary gains in Afghanistan'shealth sector over the past decade show us what is possible.
Dr. Suraya Dalil isAfghanistan’s Acting Minister of Public Health.
ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images
We often see thearts as only fit for museums, galleries, and film festivals, cloistered inhalls only for the intellectual elite. But the arts can help build anation, or in the case of Afghanistan, are rebuilding a nation, employing itspeople, and recalling a history forgotten in recent decades of continuousconflict. And a small group of social scientists, architects, and entrepreneursare using culture as a vehicle to restore Afghanistan, challenging theconvention that the arts are only for aesthetics.
"Culturalconservation is directly linked to development and livelihoods here. Thehistoric sites that we're rebuilding are functioning places, generating revue,providing jobs, and are self-sustaining," says Ajmal Maiwandi, anAfghan-American architect who returned to the country nearly a decade ago totake up a post with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) to help rebuildAfghanistan's most historic sites. In that time, Maiwandi explains thatAKTC has preserved nearly a 100 sites, even during tense periods of conflict.
For WashingtonD.C.-based Dr. Cheryl Benard, the desire to revive the arts in Afghanistan cameout of seeing the destruction of Europe following WWII, where monuments werepillaged, destroying not only beautiful edifices but also erasing history withthem. As a young child, growing up in post-war Germany and Austria, shethen saw the resurrection of what had been knocked down and pillaged-- anexperience she explains has made her more sympathetic to those living inconflict-ridden societies. Benard, who founded the Bamiyan Project, anon-profit dedicated to cultural preservation in Central Asia, wants to seethat same movement in Afghanistan.
"[The arts] arenot taken so seriously. It's something that people think about much later, whenthe tourists arrive. But they're fundamental to the process ofreconciliation and reconstructing the nation," she says with urgency.
Maiwandiagrees. As CEO of the AKTC in Afghanistan, he's led numerous successfulprojects, such as the restoration of the gardens of the Mughal emperor Babur, the Mausoleum of Timur Shah, and urban regeneration initiatives in the Asheqan wa Arefan neighborhood of Kabul. In the old city of Herat, the Trusthas revived five notable historic houses, seventeen public buildings, and thegravesite of the Sufi poet, Abdullah Ansari, in Gozarga.
This flurry ofactivity has created a local demand for labor. In Herat alone, therestoration has provided for 60,000 work days of employment. And theapproach to restoration is "holistic," Maiwandi notes, meaning that not onlyare old, crumbling building attended to, but drainage systems are put intoplace, pavements are laid down, and waste is removed. In short,these efforts are not just about beautifying but also redevelopingneighborhoods, investments that have long-term impact, he explains.
AKTC couples thishistorical preservation with more hands-on training, offering courses in tradessuch as carpentry, teaching students how to craft doors, windows, woodcarvings, items that go beyond the classroom and have local demand.
Turquoise Mountain, a social enterprise created by Britishauthor and parliamentarian Rory Stewart, takes the training a step furtherthrough a global market place for handmade Afghan crafts, having sold nearly $1million worth within the country and abroad. While Turquoise also tends tourban regeneration in old Kabul, its Institute of Arts and Architectures givesstudents year-long lessons in calligraphy, woodworking, ceramics, jewelry, andgem cutting -- trades that give them employment in addition to carrying onage-old traditions.
Such pragmaticart is coupled with large-scale preservation, akin to AKTC's work on Bagh-e-Babur,which fuels tourism. Benard's non-profit, for instance, is restoring thelegendary poet Rumi's birthplace in northern Afghanistan. The restorationprocess, Benard explains, has generated not just local employment during andpost construction, but also created an oasis for locals and tourists that willbe sustainable in years to come. And in remembrance of Rumi's poems, whichoften featured lyrical descriptions of nature, the site houses a number ofgardens, something that will keep the locals coming after they've seen thetouristy bits. Benard notes that the Rumi Gardens are located in one ofAfghanistan's "safe pockets," and have never been attacked by militants; evenif security deteriorates in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of troops in 2014,her NGO does not feel particularly concerned about security threats.
Benard originallystarted the non-profit in 2010 to help preserve an expansive site in Bamiyanprovince, one that once housed housing two colossal-sized Buddhas from the 6thcentury, remnants of the country's more pluralist past that were destroyed bythe Taliban in March 2001. Yet in the meantime, another threat arose,diverting her attention again.
In 2007, TheChinese Metallurgical Group Corp, backed by the Chinese government, leasedone of the world's largest untapped copper mines, estimated at $3.5billion, with intentions to begin mining in 2009. A profitable deal forthe Chinese who aspire to tap into Afghanistan's rich minerals, it marks thelargest foreign investment in the country, one that could reap nearly $1.2billion from the mine and the jobs it creates. But the mine sits onanother piece of Afghanistan's Buddhist history: Mes Aynak, home to a 5thcentury Buddhist monastery, whose crumbling statues dot the hilly landscape. To allow for excavation, which would removethe delicate ruins from the site to be placed in a nearby museum, the Chinesehave delayed mining until the process is completed.
Though a reminderof the country's Buddhist past, Bernard says that she was impressed by howlocal Afghans have made an effort to preserve it. Being an Islamic nationhasn't stopped them from expressing their support for the preservation of theBuddhas, she says, illustrating that the arts can be a catalyst in redefining acountry's story.
Benard continues,explaining that "one piece of the story that doesn't get covered is the risksthat people go to save their cultural heritage. For example, earlier,when the locals realized that that Taliban were coming to destroy the [NationalFilm Archives of Afghanistan], they erected walls to break up the collectionand reduce the damage. In museums, the staff concealed so many items, taking abig risk on their own safety. This simply shows that the arts are important tolocals -- even in war when more basic needs are at stake."
Benard is nowcollaborating with other preservationists to develop a plan for some of theBuddha statues to remain in their original form at Mes Aynek, and not bewhisked away to museums, so that the site can be visited and admired in itsnative state. The Chinese will still be able to access the site formining, though they may need to use a more "gentle technology" to extract thecopper without damaging the Buddhas, Benard says.
Hamid Naweed, anAfghan art historian, has been working closely with Benard and recentlytraveled with her throughout the country, talking with locals on the BamiyanProject, Mes Aynek, and the cultural heritage of Afghanistan more broadly.
"What amazed mewas the response of the Afghan people," said Benard. "They were moved bythe discussions, crying even, to hear their history presented in a coherent,positive way. The Afghans have a history rich with achievements as well. So,it's a real game changer for them to hear it first-hand."
With morepreservation projects under way for Benard, Turquoise, and AKTC, the Afghanswill not only be hearing it, but will see it unfold in front of them, as thearts becomes a means of employment and a way to reconstruct their nation.
Esha Chhabra is a writer who focuses onsocial innovation and social enterprises. She was recently the RotaryAmbassadorial Scholar at the London School of Economics, where she specializedin Global Politics and Social Enterprise. This piece was completed in partnershipwith Dowser.org.
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A decade after the first international conference on Afghanistan at Bonn, Germany is hosting a follow-up conference on Monday, widely known as Bonn II. The first Bonn Conference prepared a framework for the newly established Afghan administration and picked Hamid Karzai to lead the interim administration. In 2004 and again in 2009, Karzai was elected President of the country.
As always with this war-torn region, there are voices expressing optimism and others expressing pessimism regarding what can be expected of the conference. The recent NATO air strike along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border has certainly contributed to the voices of pessimism. Islamabad has declared that it will boycott the conference as a protest to what they're calling the "unprovoked" NATO bombing that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Although there's been no change in that official decision, sources have said that Pakistan's Ambassador in Germany will likely attend.
Pakistan's rigid stance against participating in the Bonn conference conveys a clear, but dangerous message -- that it has no desire to bring stability to Afghanistan.
The conference is expected to focus on three main areas: the transfer of security responsibilities to the Afghan government by 2014, the long-term commitment by the international community to Afghanistan beyond the 2014, and the future political stability of the country.
Ashraf Haidari, Deputy Assistant National Security Advisor for Afghanistan was also eager to remind me, "Ten years have passed since the first historic Bonn Conference that helped chart a political road-map for creating the institutions of a permanent democratic government [in Afghanistan]. That central objective of the first Bonn Conference, along with its other major goals, has been achieved. But our collective efforts to secure the future of Afghanistan are still a work in progress."
Haidari then drove his point home. "The main objective of this second Bonn Conference is for the international community and the government of Afghanistan to re-affirm our shared commitment to a solid, long-term partnership beyond 2014. Such partnership must credibly assure the Afghan people that our country will not be abandoned again. Afghanistan's enemies must understand that our nation-partners will continue their solidarity and support with and for the Afghan people, until Afghanistan is no longer vulnerable to security threats from the same state and non-state actors which once undermined international peace and security -- as we experienced in the unchecked events of the 1990s that led to the tragedy of 9/11."
Afghan women's rights activist Najla Ayubi has a decidedly more negative view of what the upcoming conference can accomplish. "It is one of several unproductive, symbolic conferences to be held on Afghanistan. Decisions have already been made. Several international conferences were held in the past ten years, none had tangible and effective outcomes for Afghans -- this one is not an exception. The Afghan people at large are the victim of regional and international politics. The current Afghan government could not effectively use the previous opportunities opened for Afghanistan and will not be able to appropriately use the new opportunity."
She went on to say, "Afghans suffer from unconstitutional acts, systemic corruption, human rights violations, increasing insecurity, poppy boom, extreme poverty, and more." To address these issues, Ayubi suggests, "If the current Afghan administration has any wish to be honest with its people -- which I doubt -- it is time for the Afghan authorities to admit their past mistakes and open the door for a holistic approach to overcome the contemporary challenges facing the country, which include increasing insecurity and systemic corruption."
Like Ayubi, Vahid Mojdeh, political analyst and former member of the Taliban's foreign ministry staff, also voiced pessimism about what the conference can achieve. But Mojdeh is pessimistic for different reasons. He argues that the first Bonn Conference, lacking the presence of the Taliban and not well represented ethnically, triggered the current chaos and insecurity in the country. And he insists that, "the Second Bonn Conference suffers from similar shortcomings." In addition, Pakistan has boycotted the conference, which will potentially prevent the outcomes of the meeting from being implemented.
Asadullah Walwalji, an Afghan writer and analyst told me that the "absence of Pakistan in such a conference means that decisions made there, will not be implemented; i.e. Islamabad will continue to play its destructive and sabotaging role in Afghanistan."
Sayed Zaman Hashemi, an Afghan political
analyst, has a different view about the conference. "I think the first Bonn
Conference was to fight terrorism, establish a democratic system, and rebuild
Afghanistan. Considering the recession and pressure from the public in those
Bonn Conference, indeed, is an exit conference and end point to an active
presence of the West in Afghanistan. The reasons behind such an exit are clear:
systemic corruption within the Afghan administration and the (fact that the)
Afghan government has practically changed democracy to demagogy - both of which
are unacceptable for the West."
Bonn Conference is taking place at a time when the Afghan government is seeking
to sign a binding strategic partnership agreement with the United States, while
to the Afghan government -- the United States insists on signing a
nonbinding declaration. Before signing the strategic agreement, the Afghan
government has set a precondition that U.S. forces stop
carrying out night raids on Afghan homes. The U.S. and NATO have long
considered night raids one of the most effective ways to fight insurgency in
Afghanistan. The Afghan government is also insisting that the U.S. hand over
those prisoners dwelling under the custody of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Some Afghan analysts, however, believe that the Afghan government should be more cautious in this regard. "The Afghan people are in need of cooperation by a superpower like the U.S. The Afghan government should not be so insistent regarding its conditions to the U.S. They both had better come to a mutually acceptable agreement that will potentially benefit both countries." states Ayubi.
Helaluddin Helal, a former Afghanistan Deputy Interior Minister, also believes that the Afghan government should not insist on its position. "At this stage, the Afghan security forces are not acquainted with modern military tools. Considering the effectiveness of night raids and the inabilities of the Afghan security forces, how can the government take a leading role in night raids?" Helal asks, arguing that Afghan troops need more time to be trained in order to lead the assaults. In addition, Helal argues that most Afghan security forces are affiliated with different ethnic allegiances and that in the near term, it will be impossible for them to rise above those allegiances in order to align themselves with the national interest.
Equally important, Helal says, the Afghan security forces are unable to take over responsibility for detainees being held at U.S. facilities in Afghanistan. Two prison breaks in Kandahar, in which hundreds of mostly Taliban prisoners managed to escape, exemplify the incompetence of Afghan forces. Helal predicts that a strategic partnership between the two countries will be signed, but that it will take time.
Considering the acute political, security, and economic situation in Afghanistan and proven incompetence of the Afghan government to use international aid effectively, systematically fight corruption, ensure security, prevent poppy cultivation, provide a better living standard for Afghans, and establish an administration based on the values of good governance, it seems likely that the second Bonn Conference will fail to establish a more durable order. Unless the international community puts increasing pressure on the Afghan government to fight corruption and provide better services for the Afghan people, the insurgents will gain strength, more people will join hands with the Taliban, security will deteriorate, and both the Afghan people and the international community will suffer the consequences.
However, something the conference can accomplish is providing the international community with the opportunity to convey its clear message that Afghanistan will not be abandoned again, and that Pakistan will not be given another chance to set Afghanistan's course, as it did during the Taliban's time in power.
Khalid Mafton is an Afghan writer and analyst.
PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images
In October 2009, President Obama signed the Kerry-Lugar-Berman (KLB) Act into law, thereby authorizing $7.5 billion in civilian assistance to Pakistan.
More than two years later, however, KLB has seemingly produced more acrimony than aid.
With only a relatively small percentage of KLB aid released, and with that aid having a minimal public impact, many Pakistanis complain that Washington's promise of expanded development aid rings hollow. Meanwhile, with the United States mired in economic malaise, many Americans are increasingly uneasy about sending any tax dollars to a nation they believe sheltered Osama Bin Laden and maintains links with other anti-American militants.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan women have long fought for a say in their country's future, but that fight has grown more urgent in the run-up to the Bonn Conference, a gathering charged with laying out a plan for Afghanistan for 2014 and beyond.
So far, women's battle to win a substantive role at Bonn - and any other peace talks that may come to the capital - has gained little traction either at home or abroad. And in the US, those backing women say they face an uphill fight convincing the Obama Administration to speak out more about the need for women's participation.
Afghan women leaders have issued press releases and formal position papers in the run-up to December's meeting demanding that civil society makes up 30 percent of Afghanistan's delegation to the Bonn Conference, with women accounting for half of that group.
The Afghan government has not yet announced its official delegation, but so far one man and one woman from civil society have been invited to Bonn, with the woman getting three minutes to address the plenary. Of the sixteen women attending a separate civil society forum, only one will have access to the official conference, according to the Institute for Inclusive Security, which recently brought Afghan women leaders to Washington to press their case on the Hill and with the Obama Administration.
"We would like to have strong participation in these processes, we would like to know what is being discussed, what is put on the table," says Orzala Ashraf, a peace activist and founder of an Afghan NGO for women and children. "We would like to ensure that these bargaining chips (in any peace process) are not women's rights or our achievements of the past ten years."
With the U.S. and its NATO allies focused on extricating themselves from Afghanistan, the task of laying out the path ahead has assumed extreme urgency for Afghans. "It is of high importance for women's groups and civil society to make sure their voices are included in any road map," says Ashraf, "in any direction that Afghanistan is going to take."
But whether those voices will be heard remains an open question.
As Human Rights Watch noted, "The Afghan government and its international backers say that women's rights are one of their ‘red lines' as they plan for the withdrawal of international forces. If this is the case, why are Afghan women struggling to get a seat at the table in Bonn?"
Those in Washington attribute part of the reason to a White House inner circle that sees the role of women as far removed from the issue of Afghan security. As the Washington Post famously noted earlier this year, women are seen as "pet rocks in our rucksack" that are "taking us down."
"These guys don't get it," said a senior administration official who has argued that women's participation is crucial for Afghanistan's stability, as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell did in 2002. "Ten years on we still have to make the case that women are additive."
As I've written in these pages, it is far from the situation of a decade ago when leaders across Washington fanned out before the cameras to speak about the importance of supporting Afghan women. After five years of Taliban rule, in which women were denied the rights to work and education and to leave their homes, the international community offered its arrival in 2001 as a new start.
Secretary of State Clinton helped women leaders win a speaking role at last year's Kabul Conference and has promised women that "we will not abandon you," but with her departure imminent and 2014 looming, talk of a Taliban return is surging.
Fears of what the Taliban's ascendance would mean for women have only grown stronger with news of the stoning death of a woman and her daughter in Ghazni Province. Assassinations of leading human rights supporters and police officials and attacks on girls schools have skyrocketed in recent years - even as talk of a peace deal with the Taliban has come to be viewed in NATO capitals as the best option for ending the war.
Some American advocates for women say any talk of Taliban negotiations is misplaced, especially given the recent assassination of former President and head of the High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani.
"We don't think anybody should be negotiating with the Taliban," says Esther Hyneman of Women for Afghan Women, which runs family centers and safe homes for abused women across Afghanistan. "If the Taliban wanted a role in the government, why don't they run for parliament in a democratic election? They don't want a role in the Afghan government -- they want the Afghan government."
Women's group leaders say that just like in the 1990s, when they lobbied to stop the Clinton Administration from recognizing the Taliban government, they will not stand by quietly while women half a world away are denied their constitutionally guaranteed rights to work and education. They note that Afghan women are making progress for themselves, pointing to the rising number of girls attending school, as well as female midwives, police officers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, civil society activists, parliamentarians and educators as evidence.
"We will keep the pressure on and support women in any way we can," says Eleanor Smeal of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which helped to lead the fight against Washington's recognition of the Taliban in 1996. "There is now a huge network of non-profit organizations within Afghanistan and we are talking to them and they are taking the lead. What we can do is continue to put pressure on the U.S. government not to agree to anything that omits half the population."
Yet some wonder just how committed the White House is to supporting women's participation in their country. The President has not spoken often about Afghanistan - and far less about the country's women.
"Perhaps the tremendous unpopularity of the war puts [President Obama] in an awkward position," says activist Mavis Leno, wife of talk show host Jay Leno and one of the women who put the issue on America's map -- and in PEOPLE Magazine in 1998 -- after the Taliban came to power in 1996. "I don't think he is doing as much as he could."
Hyneman goes further:
"I am at my wit's end at the lack of discussion by the media, by our government, by our president on the issue of women's rights in Afghanistan." Of Obama, Hyneman says, "I am appalled that he has not mentioned Afghan women's rights since his speech on withdrawing US troops."
Women's activists say they are watching closely to see exactly what the Afghan government -- with support from the United States -- agrees to in any peace deal.
"I just don't understand why the fate of these women has to be considered as special pleading," Leno says. "Are we just going to stand back and see this happen again? Women were making it a little way up the hill; can we at least make sure that they don't slide back down again?"
They say they share Americans' desire to end the country's longest war, but that a peace that leaves women out will not last.
"We are in favor of peace, but this is not the road to peace, it is the road to bloodshed and subjugation and civil war, a repeat of the years past," Hyneman says. "Everyone will be sitting in front of their TV sets wringing their hands as we see women brutalized."
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