On Tuesday June 19, The Institute of World Politics, in partnership with Asia America Initiative, hosted a panel of experts to discuss life in Afghanistan following NATO’s scheduled exit of 2014. Following a brief introduction from IWP’s founder and President, Dr. John Lenczowski, he introduced founder and president of Asia American Initiative and panel moderator Albert Santoli.
Santoli opened by sketching a positive portrait of Afghan people, despite the ineffective and corrupt government with which they have been plagued since 2002. He discredited many beliefs held by Western policymakers that all Afghanistan and its people are inherently ungovernable. “There are no more hospitable people in the world,” Santoli asserted. “The courage, sacrifice, and general wonderful traits of resilience [against the Soviet forces and the Taliban] is astonishing.”
Afghanistan is not without its problems. With over 30 years of internal war, and a century of failed attempts from centralized governments to bring about social change and modernization, Afghanistan has a dissenting minority in the southern and eastern Pashtun regions that wants to oust Western influence. There are still over two million Afghan refugees, having fled violence in their home regions, who now return to find a war-torn resemblance of their native land. Reestablishing a sense of stability is imperative to the creation of an Afghanistan that its people want to live in.
Omar Samad, who served as Afghanistan’s Ambassador to France from 2009-2011, advocated the impossibility of wise policymakers to ignore Afghanistan as long as it is neither peaceful nor stable. Because of the international community’s preoccupation and economic interests in the Middle East, Afghanistan should be topic number one because of the dangers it presents to the international neighborhood. Specifically, Mr. Samad highlighted three tip-of-the-iceberg style transitions with which NATO must grapple to expedite a smooth redistribution of power:
The first, and perhaps most obvious transition, must be that of security. Transferring the “hard” security (e.g. police and army) from NATO to Afghanistan will prove an arduous task from the outset. Confronted with not only a population facing high unemployment and low living standards, Afghanistan also faces an insurgency dripping with political envy. Ensuring the safety of her citizens will be Afghanistan’s first order of business.
The second transition involves economic development. Afghanistan has been the recipient of aid and investment from foreign banks, resulting in a grand total of charity unknown to most of the world. Samad backed this claim by promulgating an economic bubble of charitable donations, which (like all bubbles) is sure to burst. When NATO withdraws its fiscal support, Mr. Samad asserts, “They [Afghanistan] will receive less than one tenth of what they have become dependent on” from the international community. This will prove disastrous. What is more, much of Afghanistan’s agricultural revenue, threatened by inherently volatile winters and the aggressiveness of thieves, can fall victim to huge fluctuations in seasonal yields. When the intercontinental stage removes much of its financial support, Afghanistan’s populace must unite in an economically stimulated approach to ensure its stability.
The Ambassador then discussed the third pivotal transition Afghanistan will face following the departure of NATO. The most sensitive transition, Amb. Samad claimed (in conjunction with Mr. Tarin’s aforementioned argument), is in the political arena. Afghanistan’s 2009 elections ended in a spectacularly disastrous fashion for those who advocate democratic dogma. Although Karzai’s government has proven manipulative and corrupt, the democratic system established following 9/11 is the most effective arrangement in three generations. In general, Afghans feel democracy offers the best chance for a concrete political system.
Qasim Tarin, the co-founder and chairman of the Afghan Business Network and the President and CEO of Electro Imaging Systems, spoke after Mr. Santoli and presented four prevalent issues Afghanistan must address in conjunction with NATO before 2014. The first and most pressing is that of water. Water is actually a resource that is plentiful in Afghanistan, but because of inadequate irrigation and canal systems, the water runoff from the Himalayas does not stretch to many Afghans. Mr. Tarin’s second issue was the scramble for free land by corrupt politicians and warlords. These “neo-robber barons” purloined the property and ground rightfully belonging to people now considered refugees. Thirdly, Mr. Tarin brought attention to the 2014 Afghan elections. The same year NATO is arranged to withdraw from Afghanistan missions, Afghanistan will hold its first presidential election since 2009, an election haunted by constituent fraud. Fourthly, Mr. Tarin advocated the need for Afghanistan’s neighbors, both states and NGOs, to allow peace to exist. This must not be a cheap, Band-Aid type political armistice, but a multilateralist plan for long-term peace and prosperity. The ambassador suggested the continuance of nonmilitary NATO aid, even after 2014.
After posing several rhetorical questions to advertise the importance of a stable redistribution of power in Afghanistan, Qasim Tarin concluded by calling for the help of neighbors and friends of all Afghans. Mr. Tarin has a dream: to provide clean water to the thirsty, to educate the illiterate, and to secure the unsecured. To ensconce Afghanistan in a comfortable international niche will require an all-hands-on-deck approach, and intimate cooperation between NATO forces and Afghanistan’s population. One can only hope this cooperation is successful.
By Michael P. Kurmlavage