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[Email This Page to a Friend ] [More of Afghan Politics] [ Start a Topic in Afghan Politics]
Obama, McCain and the Future of U.S. Foreign Policy in Afghanistan
Posted by DAVIDSHAMS on 9/10/2008

By David Shams: Author of "Democracy's Dilemma: The Challenges to State Legitimacy in Afghanistan."

Considering the relatively resent (April 28, 2008) assassination attempt on President Karzai, and the increase in the number and intensity of the Taliban’s assaults on ISAF and NATO forces, it is certainly time for the United States to reassess its military strategy in Afghanistan. However, it is equally important to note that the Afghan state and society struggle with serious political and economic issues - matters that have largely deprived the Afghans of benefiting from justice, security and a steady reconstruction pace. Meanwhile these unresolved challenges have seriously obstructed the international community’s path to victory in the war against terror.

Institutional corruption, a culture of violence perpetuated by warlords, and drug trade are among the chief predicaments that the Afghan fledgling democracy has been grappling with since the fall of the Taliban. The government’s failure to address these problems effectively has lead to a sense of public distrust towards the state. Subsequently, the state-society relationship founded on incompetence on part of the state, and disbelief on part of the public has severely undermined Afghanistan’s potency in the war against terror. Therefore, while in the short run, increasing the number of American soldiers seem likely to inflict serious damage to the Taliban’s operations, the adoption of policies useful to the Afghan state in addressing the fundamental long-term problems of governance remain critical. It is imperative to maintain a strong focus on helping the Afghans restore a just and peaceful socioeconomic order, and establish a stable democratic system devoid of corruption. A society as such not only will be able to defend itself, but could also become capable of leading the efforts in uprooting terrorism from its soil.

The manipulation of the nascent democratic system through a strong operational network between corrupt officials and warlords has increased the dependency of the economy on poppy cultivation as well as on the international community’s ongoing financial support. Afghanistan continues to rank among the five least developed countries, as well as among states with most corrupt public administration, while placing first as the largest producer of illegal drugs in the world. A country with adverse political and economic profile as such is not likely to withstand the perils of radicalism and terror. Sharing this opinion, experts on Afghan politics have repeatedly expressed concerns regarding the bleak political and economic situation in Afghanistan. For instance, in November 2007, Woodrow Wilson’s school of public and international affairs convened a colloquium gathering policy makers, academics, and diplomats from the U.S., the E.U. and Afghanistan. The participants anonymously concluded that “. . . Afghanistan’s government and its legitimacy are undermined by corruption.” The Afghan state and the international community would have to focus on resolving this crippling issue in order to ensure the survival of peace, and the continuation of democracy. The negative perception of the state as a corrupt entity deters the public from supporting its policies and actions. Under such unfavorable political condition, it seems unreasonable to expect the Afghans develop the capacity to defeat terrorism any time soon.

Moreover, drug trade and corruption have caused political instability, benefiting the Taliban and Al Qaeda’s regrouping forces. Studies have confirmed that the enemy uses revenues generated from illegal drug trade to recruit new members, and fund its operations. One would anticipate that the presence of 36,000 American soldiers in addition to ISAF and NATO’s other forces from virtually every developed nation in the world should keep the enemy on the defensive. However, latest events have proven otherwise. One of the deadliest attacks on the American forces occurred in mid July, during which nine American soldiers lost their lives. This and many other assaults by the Taliban are indications of increase in the number and severity of their operations aimed at the international forces. Another disturbing fact is that overall, monthly number of U.S. and NATO troops killed in Afghanistan exceeded the U.S. military deaths in Iraq in May and June. These realities show that despite the NATO’s aggressive military operations, pulling Afghanistan back into the jaws of radical Islam continues to remain the focus of the Taliban.

Recently, the Afghan government failed the transparency test miserably, which is a reflection of its authority and efficacy. According to the “Global Corruption Report 2008,” released by Transparency International, on a scale of 1 to 10, the state embarrassingly scored 1.8 in its efforts to govern void of corruption, ranking 172 among 180 countries. The result of this study is sufficient to realize the severity of official corruption within the Karzai administration. Poppy production, insecurity, human rights abuses, and a slow pace of reconstruction are among the challenges deeply rooted in public corruption destabilizing Afghanistan on political, social and economic basis. Thus, it is sensible to expect the next American President work closely with the Afghan leadership on neutralizing the perils to the authority of the state as well as to the lives and liberties of the public.

Experts on Afghan affairs agree that dysfunctional institutional management has contributed to all of the other ills inflicted upon the Afghan state and society. In a July 27, 2008 article in the “New York Times”, Thomas Schweich, a U.S. senior counter narcotics official argued that widespread institutional corruption within the Karzai administration in general, and the law enforcement agencies of the state in particular is a serious impediment to the U.S. and international community’s counter narcotics efforts. Schweich concluded his article offering a series of suggestions for eradicating drugs and the establishment of a competent government in Afghanistan. Ending the influence of corrupt politicians within the state’s various organizational structures is the top item on his list of recommendations. His presentation of facts, as well as advice on how to combat drug production and trade could prove helpful in formulating policy concerning Afghanistan.

In order to eliminate the Al Qaeda and the Taliban threat, be it McCain or Obama, the next President of the Unite State could take advantage of his position to help empower the Afghans. The distress caused by economic destitute combined with the rule of a corrupt and largely dysfunctional state could remain a matter of significant concern as grounds for the survival and growth of terrorism and international drug trade. The Afghan state has not been able to combat two of its formidable internal enemies – corruption and drugs. This has lead to the weakening of its status as a legitimate body in the eyes of the Afghans. Clearly, a weak state with little or no moral authority to attract cooperation and support from its citizens is unlikely to play an operative role in defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Therefore, the Karzai administration is undoubtedly in need of further support from the U.S. to reform and reorganize its institutions, especially its law enforcement agencies and the judicial system. Helping the Afghan state to become functionally effective and regain the moral authority necessary to rule will help us win the war on terrorism. In the wake of the Taliban’s recent deadly attacks on NATO forces, the urgency in increasing the number of NATO troops, and rethinking military strategy in Afghanistan seems real. Nevertheless, without a simultaneous and equal focus on assisting the Afghans to stabilize their political and economic order our military efforts and sacrifices in that country could prove futile.

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