August 13, 2009

The Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue: Day Six

From s British reader:

As President Obama and Prime Minister Brown have both stated clearly in recent speeches, our objective for entering Afghanistan in 2001 – the need to deny Al Qaeda a base from which to launch attacks on the world as it did in 2001, 2003 and 2005 – still holds true in 2009. To do this successfully we must support the Government of Afghanistan in dismantling the insurgency, which still threatens to provide that base, by using the dual approach of military power and political engagement.

The Afghan Security forces are not ready to provide the military power by themselves. That is why a coalition of 42 nations have troops in Afghanistan. Those troops are taking on the Taliban, and at the same time building up the Afghan forces so they can do this job for themselves.

This means that the international community will be involved in Afghanistan for many years, but it doesn’t mean international troops will be fighting for all that time. Members of the international coalition will look forward to the day their troops can come home – because this means the Afghans will be doing it themselves – though the international community will still be helping them with development. But for now, international troops will stay there as long as they are needed.

The international community is not trying to impose a western model on Afghanistan. But unless we can help the Afghan government give its people a stake in the future – through both economic and physical security - the progress there since 2001 will be wasted. The region will return to instability and terrorists will once again use it as a base from which to attack other countries.

The international effort is helping improve Afghan’s health and access to education. Child and maternal death rates have shown a marked fall, and basic healthcare now covers 82% of the country. In 2001 only a million children were in school, all boys. Today there are 6.6 million – more than a third girls - and the figure is expected to hit eight million by 2012/13.

The 20 August Afghan elections are an important milestone. The immediate priority is to ensure the elections are credible and inclusive, and are not undermined or disrupted by Taliban violence. The winning candidate must present a clear manifesto, and move quickly to implement it. This will lay the ground for a stronger Afghan state that is better able to tackle terrorism within its borders.

So what is still needed in Afghanistan? Dealing with insurgency requires a program of reconciliation and reintegration, leading to an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan that draws in conservative Pashtun nationalists (providing they renounce violence and agree to abide by the Afghan political system). Afghanistan's neighbours (including Iran and Pakistan) also need to accept that Afghanistan's future is to be a secure country in its own right, in which each of its neighbours have a responsible and open stake in ensuring that Afghanistan does not once again become a safe haven for terrorists.

The Afghan population needs to be reassured that they have a secure future under the legitimate Afghan government - which will depend on credible, clean government at provincial and district level, working with the grain of tribal Afghan society. As demonstrated by numerous compacts and agreements (Bonn, London, Paris, etc) the international community will stand by Afghanistan as long as our support is needed (which will be long after the last combat troops have left). Such a commitment is essential to locking Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan.