2007 will likely be a make or break year for Afghanistan, for the international efforts there, and, conversely, for the efforts of the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies to turn the country back into a failed state. Our efforts in Afghanistan are important because what happens there can have a large impact on our national security interests as we found to our cost on 9/11, and failure to create a viable state in Afghanistan will help empower jihadist terrorists who are planning to attack the United States and its allies.
Afghanistan today looks something like Iraq in the summer of 2003 with a growing insurgency, the exponentially rising use of IEDs and deployment of suicide bombers, the decline of reconstruction efforts because of security concerns, and a descent into chaotic violence in substantial portions of the country. Add to this the sad fact that the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan has coincided with the country becoming the world's premier source of heroin.
There are, however, some key differences between Afghanistan and Iraq: Afghans have already suffered through more than 20 years of war and they are tired of conflict; the Taliban remain deeply unpopular, and the American and NATO military presence is welcomed by the vast majority of Afghans.
And so, 2007 represents a real opportunity to put the country back on course. Afghanistan will, of course, never become Belgium, but it does have a chance to succeed, as long as success is defined realistically: Afghanistan is likely to be a fragile, poor, weak state for the foreseeable future, but one where security can be substantially improved, allowing for the emergence of a more open society and a more vibrant economy.
My testimony is divided into three sections. The first part analyses what Afghanistan's problems are, the second addresses potential opportunities that exist for the country, and the third section examines some possible solutions to Afghanistan's problems.
1. The Problems
a. The return of the Taliban.
The U.S. military and NATO are now battling the Taliban on a scale not witnessed since 2001 when the war against the Taliban began. When I travelled in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003, the Taliban threat had receded into little more than a nuisance. But now the movement has regrouped and rearmed. Mullah Dadullah, a key Taliban commander, gave an interview to Al Jazeera in the past year in which he made an illuminating observation about the scale of the insurgency. Dadullah put Taliban forces at some 12,000 fighters larger than a U.S. military official's estimate to me of between 7,000 to 10,000, but a number that could have some validity given the numerous part-time Taliban farmer/fighters. Bolstered by a compliant Pakistani government, hefty cash inflows from the drug trade, and a population disillusioned by battered infrastructure and lacklustre reconstruction efforts, the Taliban are back.
I travelled to Afghanistan four times in the past year meeting with government officials and ordinary Afghans; embedding twice with American soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division fighting the Taliban in the east and south of the country; travelling with a NATO delegation, and interviewing key American military officers to get a sense of the seriousness of the renewed Taliban insurgency. I found that while the Taliban may not yet constitute a major strategic threat to the Karzai government, it has become a serious tactical challenge for both U.S. troops and NATO soldiers.
A hundred miles to the south of Kabul, for instance, the Taliban have appeared in force in nearly half the districts of Ghazni province, which sits astride the most important road in the country between Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar. It is today considered suicidal for non-Afghans to drive that road without security. In the south of Afghanistan, reconstruction has ground to a halt and foreigners can only move around safely if they are embedded with the military or have substantial private security. Around Kandahar itself this past summer, fierce battles raged between the Taliban and NATO forces that have encountered much stiffer resistance than they anticipated. As a former senior Afghan cabinet member told me in September, "If international forces leave, the Taliban will take over in one hour."
Why did the Taliban come back?
First, key mistakes were made by the American administration in the first years of the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan due to a variety of ideological idees fixes that included a dislike of "nation building," an aversion to reliance on international forces, and a preoccupation with Iraq as a supposed centre of world terrorism. That meant that Afghanistan was short changed on a number of levels. The initial deployment of international troops was the lowest per capita commitment of peacekeepers to any post-conflict environment since World War II. The Pentagon also initially blocked efforts by soldiers of the international coalition, known as ISAF, to patrol outside of Kabul and to extend a security umbrella to other parts of the country until August 2003. And aid per capita to Afghans in the first two years after the fall of the Taliban was around a tenth of that given to Bosnians following the end of the Balkan civil war in the mid- 1990s. As Ambassador James Dobbins of RAND has pointed out "Afghanistan was the least resourced of any major American led nation building operation since the end of WWII." These early errors helped pave the way for the resurgence of the Taliban.
Second, Afghanistan's ballooning drug trade has succeeded in expanding the Taliban ranks. It is no coincidence that opium and heroin production, which now is equivalent to one-third (36 percent) of Afghanistan's licit economy spiked at the same time that the Taliban staged a comeback. A U.S. military official told me that charities and individual donations from the Middle East are also boosting the Taliban's coffers. These twin revenue streamsdrug money and Mideast contributionsallow the Taliban to pay their fighters $100 or more a month, which compares favorably to the $70 salary of an Afghan policeman. Whatever the source, the Taliban can draw upon significant resources, at least by Afghan standards. One U.S. military raid on a Taliban safe house in 2006 recovered $900,000 in cash.
A third key to the resurgence of the Taliban can be summarized in one word: Pakistan. The Pakistani government has proven unwilling or incapable (or both) of clamping down on the religious militia, despite the fact that the headquarters of the Taliban and its key allies are located in Pakistan. According to a senior U.S. military official, not a single senior Taliban leader has been arrested or killed in Pakistan since 2001nor have any of the top leaders of the militias headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, who are fighting U.S. forces alongside the Taliban. For example, Amir Haqqani, the leader of the Taliban in the central province of Zabul, "never comes across the border" from Pakistan into Afghanistan, a U.S. military official based in Zabul told me.
General James Jones, then the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in September 2006 said that it was "generally accepted" that the Taliban maintain their headquarters in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Baluchistan Province. U.S. military officials say that the important Taliban "Peshawar Shura" is headquartered in Pakistan's North West Frontier province.. In addition, Hekmatyar operates in the tribal areas of Dir and Bajur; Jalaluddin Haqqani is based in Waziristan; and al Qaeda has a presence both in Waziristan and Chitralall Pakistani regions that border Afghanistan. A senior U.S. military official told me that the Pakistanis have taken "no decisive action on their border" to deal with the Taliban. Pakistan's upcoming 2007 presidential election means the Pakistani government is doing even less than in the past because the Musharraf government is aware how unpopular military action against the Taliban is in their border regions with Afghanistan.
It should be noted, however, that the Taliban has released videotapes over the past year in which they attack the Musharraf government as an "infidel" government because of its cooperation with the United States in the war on terrorism. Indeed, Pakistan has lost around 700 soldiers battling militants in the tribal areas over the past several years, and Pakistan was helpful in the overthrow of the Taliban regime in the winter of 2001. Within the past month militants in Pakistan have launched suicide attacks in Islamabad, Peshawar and Dera Ismail Khan indicating that they also have the Pakistani government in their crosshairs.
The Pakistani government denies it is providing a safe haven for the Taliban leadership. An explanation for the seeming dichotomy between the fact that U.S. military and intelligence officials universally hold the view that the Taliban is headquartered in Pakistan and the Pakistani government denial of this is that the Musharraf government does not completely control its own territory or security agencies, and that ISI, the Pakistani military intelligence agency, at some levels continues to tolerate and/or maintain links with Taliban leaders. Also, many members of the Taliban grew up in refugee camps in Pakistan and so are very familiar with the country. In addition, an alliance of Pakistani religious political parties broadly sympathetic to the Taliban known as the MMA controls both the North West Frontier Province and, to some degree, Baluchistan, the regions where the Taliban are presently headquartered.
A fourth reason for the Taliban's recent resurgence is that it has increasingly morphed tactically and ideologically with al Qaeda, which itself is experiencing a comeback along the Afghan- Pakistan border. The story of Al Qaeda's renaissance begins with its eviction from Afghanistan in late 2001. Unfortunately, the group didn't disintegrateit merely moved across the border to the tribal regions of western Pakistan where today it operates a network of training camps. A former American intelligence official stationed in Pakistan told me that there are currently more than 2,000 "foreign fighters" in the region. The camps are relatively modest in size. "People want to see barracks. [In fact,] the camps use dry riverbeds for shooting and are housed in compounds for 20 people, where they are taught callisthenics and bomb-making," a senior American military intelligence official told me. Taliban and al Qaeda videotapes released in 2006 on jihadist websites also demonstrate that the camps in Pakistan's tribal areas are training new recruits.
Al Qaeda's resurgence in Pakistan was noted by Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of Britain's domestic intelligence service MI5, who in a rare pubic statement in November noted that, "We are aware of numerous plots to kill people and damage our economy . . .Thirty that we know of. These plots often have linked back to al Qaeda in Pakistan and through these links al Qaeda gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here on an extensive and growing scale." Similarly, the plot by a group of British citizens planning to blow up as many as ten American passenger jets with liquid explosives that was broken up in the U.K. last August was "directed by al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan," according to Lt. General Michael D. Maples, the director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, in testimony he gave to the Senate Intelligence Committee last month.
The Taliban were a provincial bunch when they held power in Afghanistan, but in the past couple of years, they have increasingly identified themselves as part of the global jihadist movement, their rhetoric full of references to Iraq and Palestine in a manner that mirrors bin Laden's public statements. Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban commander, gave an interview to CBS News in December in which he outlined how the Taliban and Al Qaeda cooperate: "Osama bin Laden, thank God, is alive and in good health. We are in contact with his top aides and sharing plans and operations with each other." Indeed, a senior American military intelligence official told me that "trying to separate Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan serves no purpose. It's like picking grey hairs out of your head."
Suicide attacks, improvised explosive devices, and beheadings of hostagesall techniques al Qaeda perfected in Iraqare being employed by the Taliban to strengthen their influence in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan. Hekmat Karzai, an Afghan national security expert, points out that suicide bombings were virtually unknown in Afghanistan until 2005, when there were 21 attacks. According to the U.S. military there were 139 such attacks in 2006. This exponentially rising number of suicide attacks is mirrored by other grim statisticsIED attacks in Afghanistan more than doubled from 783 in 2005 to 1,677 in 2006, and the number of "direct" attacks by insurgents using weapons against international forces tripled from 1,558 to 4,542 during the same time period. 2006 also saw a record number of 98 U.S. military and 93 NATO deaths. At least 1,000 Afghan civilians died last year in clashes between the Taliban and the coalition; one hundred of those deaths were the result of U.S. or NATO actions, according to Human Rights Watch.
Just as suicide bombings in Iraq had an enormous strategic impactfrom pushing the United Nations out of the country to helping spark a civil warsuch attacks might also plunge Afghanistan into chaos. Already, suicide attacks and the Taliban resurgence have made much of southern Afghanistan a no-go area for both foreigners and for any reconstruction efforts. Luckily, for the moment, the suicide attackers in Afghanistan have not been nearly as deadly as those in Iraq. As one U.S. military official explained, almost all of the Taliban's suicide bombers are "Pashtun country guys from Pakistan," with little effective training.
b. The drug economy.
That Afghanistan has a large drug economy is by now well known. Poppy cultivation for opium in Afghanistan grew by 59 percent last year and it is widely acknowledged that the Taliban resurgence is being fuelled by the profits of this opium trade. Afghanistan is the source of an astonishing 92 percent of the world's heroin supply.
However, four fundamental propositions must be understood about the drug economy in Afghanistanabruptly ending it would put millions of people out of work and impoverish millions more as the only really functional part of the economy is poppy and opium production. Second, Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world and many rural Afghans have very few options to make money other than to engage in poppy growing. Third, Afghan support for poppy cultivation is on the upswing40 percent now call it acceptable if there is no other way to earn a living, with two out of three Afghans living in the Southwest saying it is acceptable, the region where much of the poppy is grown. And so, ending the drug economy is simply not going to happen any time in the foreseeable future. Fourth, and most importantly from an American and NATO national security perspective, drug policy in Afghanistan as it's presently constructed is helping the Taliban to thrive as they benefit from the trade. Bizarrely, our drug policy helps to fund our enemies. (Possible solutions to this problem can be found below).
c. Weakness of the Afghan statea result of lacklustre reconstruction efforts, corruption, weakness of the police, and failures of Afghan governance.
The outgoing commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, has drawn a clear link between reconstruction and violence: "Wherever the roads end, that's where the Taliban starts." Certainly, Afghanistan needs much more reconstruction. The key road from Kabul to Kandahara nightmarish seventeen hour slalom course when I took it under the Taliban, and now a smoother seven-hour driveremains the only large-scale reconstruction project completed in the country since the U.S.- led invasion. Kabul residents have access to electricity only 4-6 hours a day, if they have electricity at all. Along with endemic corruption and the common perception that the billions of dollars of promised aid has mostly lined the pockets of nongovernmental organizations, the infrastructure gap feeds resentment among ordinary Afghans, some of whom may be tempted to throw in their lot with the Taliban.
Some of the failures in Afghanistan are, of course, the responsibility of Afghans. Warlords like Gul Agha Shirzai in Kandahar were given high political office. President Hamid Karzai's staff is viewed as weak and inexperienced, though Karzai has recently replaced his chief of staff. Highly competent ministers like foreign minister Dr. Abdullah and the finance minister Ashraf Ghani have been forced out of the government for no discernible good reason. There is little true representation of Pashtun political interests in parliament because Karzai appears to distrust political parties. And, by all accounts Afghanistan's police forces are ill-equipped, poorly trained and sometimes corrupt and poorly led.
There have been successes since the fall of the Talibanas many as five million refugees have returned to Afghanistan from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran. Refugees don't return to places they don't see as having a future. Presidential and parliamentary elections occurred with high participation by Afghan voters. Millions of boys and girls are back in school and the Afghan army has developed into a somewhat functional organization. Afghanistan has also developed something of an independent press with private TV stations like Tolo TV springing up. In addition, while eight Afghan provinces mostly on the border with Pakistan have security problems that prevent reconstruction, in the 26 other Afghan provinces the security situation is reasonably good.
An ABC News/BBC poll released in December 2006 shows that despite the disappointments that Afghans have felt about inadequate reconstruction and declining security on a wide range of key issues, they maintain positive attitudes. It is classic counterinsurgency doctrine that the centre of gravity in a conflict is the people. And the Afghan people, unlike the Iraqis, have positive feelings about the U.S.-led occupation, their own government and their lives. The conclusions of the ABC/BBC poll are worth quoting in some detail:
"Sixty-eight percent approve of [President] Karzai's work -- down from 83 percent last year, but still a level most national leaders would envy. Fifty-nine percent think the parliament is working for the benefit of the Afghan people -- down from 77 percent, but still far better than Americans' ratings of the U.S. Congress. . ..Big majorities continue to call the U.S.-led invasion a good thing for their country (88 percent), to express a favourable opinion of the United States (74 percent) and to prefer the current Afghan government to Taliban rule (88 percent). Indeed eight in 10 Afghans support the presence of U.S., British and other international forces on their soil; that compares with five percent support for Taliban fighters. . .Fifty- five percent of Afghans still say the country's going in the right direction, but that's down sharply from 77 percent last year. Whatever the problems, 74 percent say their living conditions today are better now than they were under the Taliban. That rating, however, is 11 points lower now than it was a year ago."
These poll results, which are very similar to another poll taken in December 2006 by the Program on International Policy Attitude's World Public Opinion.org, demonstrate that there remains strong support for the Afghan central government and U.S./NATO efforts in Afghanistan. And Afghans overwhelmingly reject violent Islamist extremism. According to both the ABC/BBC poll and that of World Public Opinion.org, no Muslim nation appears to have more negative views of Osama bin Laden. Both polls found that nine out of ten Afghans had a negative view of al Qaeda's leader. Similarly, nine out of ten Afghans say there is no justification for suicide bombings.
a. On the drug trade
The current counter-narcotics strategy that favours poppy eradication is by all accounts a failure. This is the conclusion of a range of sources from Afghan experts to narco-terrorism specialists to a GAO report and a U.N. Office of Drug Control report (both published within the past three months).
Vanda Felbab-Brown, a research fellow at the Kennedy School at Harvard, has studied counter-narcotics strategies in Columbia, Peru, Lebanon, Turkey, and Afghanistan and found that that terrorists and insurgents don't simply use the drug trade as a financial resource, but also draw substantial political gains and legitimacy from drug trafficking. Consequently an "eradication first" policy is not only bound to failthe crops will simply shift and appear elsewherebut it will foment a backlash amongst the local population that has developed ties to the belligerents via the narco-economy. For instance, local populations could withhold human intelligence that could be critical to the campaign against the reinvigorated Taliban insurgency. Instead, the U.S. should focus on defeating the insurgents and concentrate their anti-narcotics efforts on international interdiction and money laundering.
Instead of eradication, we need to begin splitting the fragile links between farmers/local populations and the Taliban by concentrating our efforts by building up viable alternative livelihoods both in farming and other sectors. This means providing seeds for crop substitution and a build-up of roadways to transport those crops to market. In the short term, while that infrastructure is being built crop substitution will only really work if Afghans can get roughly the same income that they received from poppy production for whatever crops are substituted. This suggests that the international community should consider subsidies for Afghan crops such as cotton, fruits and nuts similar to the subsidies that the United States and the European Union pays for the products of many of their farmers. This will not come cheap, but if it could substantially reduce the drug economy, it would weaken the Taliban and make the country much more securethat's a trade off that is worth the costs involved.
While the narco-economy is valued around $3 billion, most of that flows out of Afghanistan and farmers only get about $750 million of that. Meanwhile in FY2005, the U.S. allocated about $782 million for counter-narcotics in Afghanistan yet no more than 25 percent of that was targeted towards alternative livelihoods. The U.S. is clearly spending more money per year than the farmers make off of opium and that money could be redirected towards subsidies for crop substitution.
Another additional approach is to allow Afghanistan to enter into the legalized opiate trade for morphine used for pain relief, a trade that is presently dominated by countries like India and Turkey due to preferential trade agreements. While there are some legitimate criticisms of this ideaprincipally how you would make sure that Afghan opium was only going into the legitimate marketone low-risk approach would be to allow the legalized opiate trade to debut as a pilot project on a small scale in a province with reasonable security and smaller scale opium production allowing greater regulatory control. Farmers engaged in legalized poppy growing would enjoy financial incentives that could be revoked and they could also face criminal penalties if they tried to divert the poppy to the illicit market. If this approach worked in one province, then it could be implemented in other provinces. And the crop substitution approach and the legalized opiate trade approach are not either/or solutions. Both approaches could be implemented at the same time in different Afghan provinces.
Congress could then amend the law that requires U.S. opiate manufacturers to purchase at least 80 percent of their opiate from India and Turkey (affording them a guaranteed market) to include Afghanistan. This law is a preferential trade agreement designed to serve political and strategic interests and should be recalibrated to fit our present-day strategic interests in Afghanistan, which is by far the most fragile democracy and economy of the three countries, and the one where the United States has vital national security interests at stake as the Taliban and al Qaeda regroup along the Afghan/Pakistan border. It's also worth noting that according to the International Narcotics Control Board, about 80 percent of the world population living in developing courtiers consumes only 6 percent of the morphine distributed worldwidea shortfall that causes massive unnecessary pain and sufferingsuggesting that there is a large untapped market for legal opiates.
Iran has played something of a useful role in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban (whom Iran nearly went to war with in 1998.) Iran could have acted as a spoiler in post-Taliban Afghanistan; instead it has been something of a stabilizing influence in western Afghanistan. As Iran has a sizeable drug- using population it has a strong interest in preventing the entry of drugs across its border and this could be a fruitful topic for the international community to discuss with the Iranians in the future.
b. Rolling back the TalibanMore troops, better troops, fewer NATO caveats, a successful amnesty program, more reconstruction, transforming the tribal belt in Pakistan, and standing up the Afghan police.
By all accounts the spring of 2007 will be a bloody one. The present NATO strength of 33,250 is judged by NATO commanders to be insufficient by around 5,500 soldiers. The calls by Defence Secretary Robert Gates in January for additional American troops to be sent to Afghanistan are to be welcomed as not only will those forces help fight the Taliban, they also send a signal to regional players such as Pakistan that the United States is in Afghanistan for the long haul. Around two years ago then- Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld announced that the U.S. was planning to draw down its forces in Afghanistan. That sent precisely the wrong signal to the region. (For the moment 3,200 US troops have had their tours extended by four months to cover the NATO shortfall.)
One caveat about the call by Secretary Gates for more American troops is that it depends on what troops are eventually sent. According to Afghan officials U.S. Special Forces working with the Afghan National Army are the most effective soldiers to attack the Taliban and al Qaeda. Similarly, NATO member states must increase their troop strength and reduce the number of "national caveats" that prevent, say, the German from flying at night and other such caveats that hamper the effectiveness of NATO forces on the ground in Afghanistan. One senior NATO commander I spoke to in December 2005 said he has 14 pages of national caveats to contend with. While the British, Canadians and Dutch fought bravely over the summer in southern Afghanistan, other NATO member states that are part of the coalition must do more to match their efforts. NATO is also severely hampered by the lack of air assets it is able to draw on.
An amnesty program formally launched in 2005 by the Karzai government offers one promising approach to containing the Taliban threat. In Qalat, the provincial capital of Zabul, in the spring of 2006 I witnessed U.S. forces release Mullah Abdul Ali Akundzada, who was accused of sheltering Taliban members and had been arrested near the site of an IED detonation. In a deal brokered by the Karzai government and the U.S. military, Akundzada was handed over to a group of about thirty religious and tribal leaders, who publicly pledged that the released mullah would support the government. In an honour-based society such as Afghanistan, this program is working well. According to both Afghan and U.S. officials, only a handful of the more than one thousand Taliban fighters taking advantage of the amnesty have gone back to fighting the government and coalition forces.
Transforming Pakistan's tribal belt is a vital national security interest of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, and NATO countries as that is where the Taliban has a safe haven and al Qaeda is regrouping. Pakistan deployed at least 70,000 troops to the area in 2002, but they suffered hundreds of casualties and heavy-handed Pakistani tactics further alienated the population of the tribal areas. Pakistan then abandoned its "military first" policy and started concluding peace agreements with militants in both South Waziristan and North Waziristan over the past two years. Unfortunately, after the conclusion of the peace agreement in North Waziristan in early September 2006 there was a 300 percent rise in attacks from that region into Afghanistan according to the U.S. military. And militants in Waziristan have now set up a parallel judicial system lynching and torturing civilians for infringements such as drinking and documenting this on videotapes distributed by Ummat video, the Taliban's propaganda arm. Much of what is going on in the tribal areas is opaque as the Pakistani government has prevented international journalists from travelling anywhere near these areas, and Pakistani journalists have been detained or even killed when they report on the tribal regions.
This is not the place to rehearse the history of British and Pakistani rule in the tribal regions which has certainly contributed to their problems, but the present Pakistani policy that has wavered between the fist and appeasement of the militants has not worked well either. Pakistan has promised a significant aid package to the region while the United States may also be prepared to grant substantial aid. A quid pro quo for this American aid is that the Pakistani government should allow international journalists and other neutral observers to visit the tribal areas, (and not only on dog-and-pony shows organized by the Pakistani military). A further quid pro quo is that the Pakistani government should arrest Taliban leaders living in Pakistan, a policy that should be strongly endorsed by NATO countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and Holland, countries whose soldiers have borne the brunt of Taliban attacks in the summer of 2006.
As Ambassador James Dobbins of RAND has noted, "Pakistani citizens, residents, money and territory are playing a greater role in the Afghan civil war than are Iranian citizens, residents, money or territory are playing in the Iraqi civil war." The International Crisis Group has recently proposed the excellent idea that NATO publish monthly figures of cross-border incursions by militants into Afghanistan in order to encourage Pakistan to do more on its side of the border to prevent those incursions.
Also the US military and NATO, working in collaboration with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, must start identifying the identities of the suicide bombers in Afghanistan by using information posted on jihadist websites, by good intelligence work, and using reports in the media. The social networks and madrassas from which these suicide bombers emerge from must be mapped for intelligence purposes, but also because it seems probable that only a handful of madrassas in Afghanistan and Pakistan are producing a disproportionate number of the suicide attackers. Armed with that information the Afghan and Pakistani governments can then close those institutions down.
The United States should also pressure Afghanistan to recognize the Durand line drawn by the British in 1893 as the border between Afghanistan and the Raj. The fact that Afghanistan does not recognize this border aggravates tensions with Pakistan and helps the militants move back and forth across the border. The Afghan government has also proposed the good idea of holding a loya jirga, a traditional tribal gathering, with tribal leaders from both sides of the border meeting to discuss problems caused by militants on either side of the border. (Suggestions by Pakistan that they will mine the 1,500 mile border to prevent militants crossing are both impractical and strongly opposed by Afghanistan, which has suffered thousands of civilian deaths and injuries from mines left over from the Soviet conflict and subsequent Afghan civil war.)
Thus far, the U.S. government has appropriated $27 billion for Iraqi reconstruction, but only $4 billion for civilian aid and $6.3 billion for military/security aid to Afghanistan a country that has a larger population than Iraq, is a third larger in size and is utterly destroyed by two decades of war. That works out to a paltry $25 dollars per year per Afghan in civilian aid and 66 dollars per year in total aid once money for the Afghan army and police is factored in.
Without greater investments in roads, power and water resources throughout Afghanistan, the Taliban will surely prosper and continue to gain adherents. For that reason, the Bush administration calls for $10 billion in aid to Afghanistan, $2 billion of which is to go to reconstruction and $8 billion to build up the Afghan police and army, are to be welcomed.
One important caveat on the reconstruction aidmuch of that aid should be funnelled through the Afghan government and/or Afghan organizations rather than recycled to U.S. contractors. According to Ann Jones, an American writer who has worked in Afghanistan as an aid worker, unlike countries like Sweden that incur only 4 percent of their aid costs on "technical assistance" that goes back home to Sweden, "eighty six cents of every dollar of American aid is phantom aid" that will line American pockets rather than go directly to Afghans. For their part, Afghan government ministries must be more efficient at spending reconstruction money. Last year these ministries only spent 44 percent of the aid they were given. This year they are likely to spend 60 percent.
It is also time for the United States to institute a long-term mini-Marshall plan for Afghanistan. In early 2006 the Afghan government published the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, which estimated that $4 billion a year in aid for the next five years was needed to reconstruct the country. For this reason the U.S. should contribute at least half that sum every year for many years to come. Given the fact that the 9/11 attacks emerged from Afghanistan and cost the American economy at least $500 billion, aid for Afghanistan so that it does not to return to a failed state is a good investment. The U.S. should commit itself to long term reconstruction efforts in part to counter the Talibanwhich is likely to be a threat for several years to comebut also because having overthrown the Taliban government, the U.S. has responsibilities to Afghanistan. And a functioning, democratic Afghanistan will have a powerful demonstration effect on countries that surround Afghanistan such as Iran, Pakistan, and the Central Asian republics, none of which are truly democratic states.
American aid should be tied, in part, to an Afghan public employment program similar to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) program that followed the Great Depression in the United States. Afghanistan has a chronic 40 percent unemployment rate and a desperate need for roads, dams, and the repair of agricultural aqueducts destroyed by years of war. Much of the labor required for these projects does not require great skill and millions of Afghans should be set to work rebuilding their country in exchange for a real American Marshall plan to the country.
In short, there should be a military, diplomatic and reconstruction "surge" to Afghanistan, a country where such efforts have a fighting chance of real success.