31 January 2012
In ten short years, President Hamid Karzai has expanded the writ of the Afghan state - which had completely collapsed and ceased to exist for a decade - across the country. The quality and quantity of the Afghan national security forces has continued to improve, thanks to the United States and NATO for continuing to train, arm, and equip them. Afghanistan’s licit economy has steadily grown, with more jobs created than ever before. Access to education, healthcare, electricity, and clean water has expanded manifold across Afghanistan. As a result, the current generation of Afghans, which constitutes more than 70 percent of the population, is visibly healthier, more educated, and more optimistic about their future. The recent Asia Foundation public opinion survey in Afghanistan confirms that a plurality of Afghans, some 46 percent of those surveyed, expressed optimism — positively thinking that their country is moving in the right direction.
As Afghanistan’s ten-year achievements remain a work in progress, Afghans and their nation-partners are facing a number of serious challenges, which if not addressed, can undo their shared gains so far. Therefore, the question of how to ensure a successful transition to Afghan control must be answered in the context of several issues: gains that must be consolidated, popular optimism that must be maintained, and external security threats to Afghanistan that must be addressed. These major transition tasks are inextricably linked to one another, requiring Afghanistan and its nation-partners to plan strategically and work collaboratively to ensure the irreversibility of the transition process. A few broad recommendations to be considered in this regard are worth discussing.
First, for transition to Afghan responsibility to achieve its main goal of irreversibility, the protracted problem of insecurity must be resolved in Afghanistan. This overarching problem has regional roots, even though it can be argued that poverty, weak governance, narcotics, and corruption can contribute to instability in Afghanistan. These vulnerabilities themselves do not destabilize Afghanistan, however, they are being exploited to broaden domestic support for an external insurgency, which lacks a national cause and is widely rejected and opposed by the Afghan people.
Hence, moving forward, one of the foremost goals of international involvement in Afghanistan should be to help end regional interference in the Afghan affairs. This effort calls for collective action on the part of all of Afghanistan’s nation-partners, whose own national security interests will be at stake if Afghanistan is allowed to slide back into a regional proxy battlefield. But the United States and its (NATO and non-NATO) allies should not make the same mistake twice. When Afghanistan’s post-Cold War reconstruction was neglected after the fall of the Communist regime in 1992, the ensuing state collapse and its attendant dangerous spillovers soon began undermining international peace and regional stability. So, besides enabling Afghanistan to defend itself against direct and indirect foreign aggression, vigorous multilateral diplomacy, backed by the United Nations Charter and armed with clear incentives and disincentives for regional cooperation or lack thereof, must address the external causes of insecurity in Afghanistan.
Parallel to this essential effort, Afghanistan’s nation-partners must strike the right balance between their security and development aid to Afghanistan. Jobs, not so much bullets, will go a long way to weaken and even dismantle the recruiting machine of the Taliban and their foreign backers in Afghanistan. A successful transition strategy that is relevant to the needs of Afghanistan should adopt an integrated approach to addressing the country’s complex problems. Simultaneous investment in building the capacity of Afghan state institutions to deliver basic services to people, as well as in growing a productive economy to create jobs for Afghanistan’s youthful population, are the key to ensuring the irreversibility of transition to the Afghan responsibility.
Second, for transition to lead into a decade of transformation after 2014, the donor community must help institutionalize Afghan ownership and leadership of the reconstruction and stabilization efforts. This requires them to adhere to the principles of aid effectiveness, in accordance with the provisions of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. The Afghan government presented to the international community its key national priorities, with efficient mechanisms of aid delivery in the areas of security, governance, and development, at the Kabul Conference in July 2010. Adhering to the commitments and pledges, which Afghanistan’s nation-partners made at the Conference, will go a long way in ensuring a smooth transition to the Afghan responsibility.
Finally, the fact that ten years have passed since international reengagement in Afghanistan itself presents a strategic opportunity for all stakeholders to exploit in order to help transition to Afghan control succeed. By now, Afghanistan’s nation-partners have built the institutional memory they need to do “no harm,” as they continue helping Afghanistan consolidate its ten-year accomplishments towards sustainability. Indeed, one of the key lessons learned is the importance of strategic coordination and communication among all stakeholders, Afghans and non-Afghans alike. Afghanistan and its nation-partners must communicate, sincerely and objectively, with one another, while they must be willing to coordinate or to be coordinated in order to achieve their common goal of delivering integrated results in security, governance and rule of law, and economic development and job creation in order to secure and develop Afghanistan on the long run.
Disjointed aid efforts, in the form of implementing thousands of “quick fix” projects, have miserably failed, however, wasting the precious aid monies of taxpayers to Afghanistan. The way forward must avoid more of the same but draw on the many lessons learned in order to ensure a sustainable and irreversible transition to the Afghan responsibility.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy assistant national security advisor of Afghanistan, and was the chargé d’affaires and deputy ambassador of the Afghan Embassy in Washington, DC.