By Ashraf Ghani, The Financial Times (UK)
There is an emerging consensus, domestic and international, that Afghanistan is likely to slide into chaos. This misses the central point: there are assets in place that, if organised coherently, could re-establish momentum towards creating a stable, prosperous and democratic Afghanistan. If failure is not an option for the international community, attention must be focused on renewing Afghans’ trust in a bright future to make them active partners in the fight against violence and disorder.
The problem has arisen from failure to adapt to a changed context, loss of momentum in pursuing a credible programme of development and mis-calibrated use of violence. In contrast to 2001, when there was a global consensus on the imperative of stability in Afghanistan, the regional, international and domestic environments have changed. The regional consensus has either frayed or broken, with Pakistan and Afghanistan trading accusations rather than forging the partnership that their mutual interests demand, and Russia, Iran and India sending mixed signals and taking increasingly unilateral approaches. While international consensus on state-building has been forged, the innovative mechanisms of implementation, co-ordination and monitoring required are not yet in place. Meanwhile, the public mood in troop-contributing nations is becoming sceptical of the wisdom of engagement.
Between 2001 and 2005 progress was made towards establishing a legitimate central government that gradually earned the people’s trust. Now the government seems to have lost momentum. It has yet to forge a consensus around an agenda for dealing with current challenges or to build the institutions that can deliver rule of law, security and economic development. The aid system, instead of building the government’s capability, has created a parallel bureaucracy that has forced a brain drain from the government and fuelled the resentment of the population and underpaid civil servants.
While most Afghans suffer immense poverty, a small elite of traffickers and profiteers has amassed fortunes and is corroding the state’s authority. Using the scepticism of the population as an opening, the networks of terror have moved in aggressively. The two theatres of Afghanistan and Iraq are now increasingly co-ordinated with a repertoire of common tactics. But the violence used to control terror is in turn feeding the people’s sense of insecurity.
These negative trends can be arrested. There are assets that can be marshalled. A series of national programmes has been implemented, demonstrating Afghans’ leadership and management capability. Monetary and fiscal reforms were carried out. Regulation has been used to secure more than $500m in private sector investment in the telecommunications sector and secure service delivery by the private sector to the population. A medium-term programme of public investments that would generate sufficient domestic revenue to provide the financial basis of governance has been prepared. With rising commodity prices, Afghanistan’s deposits of copper, iron, marble and coal could make it a significant regional player. Nato’s first deployment outside Europe should leave no doubt about international support.
A new approach requires avoiding obvious traps. Afghanistan and its partners must not perpetuate a blame game; no one participant can solve the problem alone. Neither can they afford to wait, letting the worst happen before taking matters in hand. The temptation of privatising security – whether through militias or private security firms – must be resisted as it would only worsen trust in the rule of law by unleashing unregulated daily violence.
What are the elements of a strategy? Hamid Karzai, president, and his government have a choice: act decisively and become founding fathers of a dignified nation or go down as those who squandered a golden chance. They must show commitment to rule of law and accountability. First, they must establish a supreme court that is a model of independence. Second, they must confront corruption through a commission of Afghan and international people who could investigate allegations at the highest levels and impose sanctions. Third, they must pursue good governance. Fourth, they must build equality of opportunity for the young generation. Fifth, security strategy must be overhauled.
Regional support must be renewed: in particular, Pakistan should be persuaded that stability in Afghanistan provides the basis of its own stability and prosperity. The imbalance between military and developmental expenditure by the international community needs to be redressed, with new mechanisms that would reinvigorate the Afghans’ energies for reconstructing their country. As the key to prosperity lies in regional trade and investment, the Gulf countries could play an important role. While use of force is going to be required, it must be placed within a comprehensive strategy of state-building. The anti-drugs strategy must be revisited to ensure it is aligned with the overall objective.
Contrary to stereotypes, Afghans welcomed the International Security Assistance Force and the coalition with open arms in 2001. With the right measures, this goodwill can and must be regained. Their government and their international partners should have the wisdom, commitment and staying power to deliver solutions rather than yield to self-fulfilling prophecies.
The writer, chancellor of Kabul University, is former finance minister of Afghanistan