Almost twelve years have passed since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but peace remains elusive. Four interlocking challenges with internal, regional, transnational, and international dimensions impede Afghanistan’s stabilization and reconstruction. Each challenge facing Afghanistan feeds off the others, and together they have engendered a vicious circle that is destabilizing the country.
First, Afghanistan is an underdeveloped country and much of its infrastructure has been destroyed by conflict. Its new state institutions lack the basic capacity and resources to administer their mandates. These structural problems are compounded by the country’s expanding population, 70% of which is illiterate and demand jobs that do not exist. Taken together, abject poverty, a lack of basic services, and a demographic explosion significantly contribute to instability in Afghanistan.
Second, it is clear that the Taliban leadership continues to receive protection from the Pakistani military and intelligence establishments. It stands to reason that without an external sanctuary, sustainable funding, weapons supplies, and intelligence support in Pakistan, the Taliban would be unable to reconsolidate its control over Afghanistan. Since 2003, the Taliban and its affiliated networks have gradually expanded their influence in the ungoverned southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, launching daily terrorist attacks that have injured and killed thousands of innocent civilians.
Third, Afghanistan is vulnerable to transnational security threats, stemming in particular from the narcotics trade and terrorism stand. These security threats feed into and are fed by Afghanistan’s internal and regional challenges. Rife poverty and weak governance, for example, are as much responsible for mass drug production in Afghanistan as is the global demand for narcotics; this is not to mention the alliance between the Taliban and drug traffickers, who exploit Afghanistan’s vulnerable population to destabilize the country.
Fourth, although the diversity of nations present in Afghanistan demonstrates international goodwill and consensus for supporting the country, each contributing nation has pursued its own aid strategies, effectively bypassing coordination with each other and the Afghan government. Hence, a lack of strategic coordination across international military and civilian efforts to ensure aid effectiveness has so far crippled the Afghan state and left it with no capacity or resources to deliver basic services to its people.
It is important to note, however, that in the face of the aforementioned complex challenges, Afghanistan and its international partners have a number of significant advantages, which must be fully harnessed to regain the momentum necessary to achieve peace in the country.
Foremost among these is Afghanistan’s key, untapped asset: its people, who make up one of the youngest, most energetic, and most forward-looking nations in the world. They should be supported in acquiring higher education in technical fields, and their energy and skills must be harnessed to exploit Afghanistan’s vast natural resources, worth more than one trillion dollars, to help the country develop a productive economy.
Secondly, Afghanistan’s vital location should help it serve as a regional trade and transit hub for easy movement of goods and natural resources to meet the rising energy demands of India and China. Indeed, without this realization and utilization of Afghanistan as the heart of the New Silk Road, achieving regional economic integration will remain impossible. The recent India-China dialogue on how to protect their shared long-term interests in Afghanistan is a welcome development. The more these key regional players, including Russia and Turkey, get constructively involved in Afghanistan through investment in the country’s virgin markets, the less space for the region’s peace spoilers, whether state or non-state actors, to destabilize the country.
Finally, Afghanistan’s friends and allies have gone through the learning curve, and gained invaluable experience in assisting Afghanistan effectively. Together, they have made many mistakes and learned many lessons over the past 12 years, which should be used as a strategic opportunity to avoid more of the same, and to do the right thing henceforth.
In line with the agreed-upon objectives of the 2010 Kabul Conference, which were re-affirmed in the Tokyo Conference last year, Afghanistan’s nation-partners should align 80% of their aid with the goals of the country’s national priority programs, while channeling at least 50% of their assistance through the Afghan national budget. This is the best way to prevent further waste of taxpayers’ financial assistance, which have largely bypassed the targeted beneficiaries.
This means a firm re-commitment to bottom-up and top-down institutional capacity building in the Afghan state so that Afghans increasingly initiate, design, and implement reconstruction projects on their own. Meanwhile, the Afghan national security forces must be equipped with the necessary capabilities — including capacity for logistics and equipment maintenance as well as adequate ground and air firepower — to execute independent operations against conventional and unconventional enemies. This way, they will gradually relieve international forces of the duty Afghans consider to be theirs – to defend Afghanistan now and beyond 2014. On the whole, these vital efforts will help ensure the irreversibility of the transition process currently underway.
The Afghan people have placed much hope and trust in the strategic partnership agreements the Afghan government has signed with the United States, India, and other allies to help address the above security challenges confronting Afghanistan. But this long-term and necessary task cannot be accomplished by any one party alone. Every state in the region and beyond has a stake in the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan, knowing that the effects of terrorism and insecurity in one country can easily spill over to affect the rest in a globalized world. Thus, with Afghans leading the way forward, the burden of securing Afghanistan must be shared by the whole international community, both to ensure durable stability in the country and to maintain global peace and security.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan’s deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.