Aug 25, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Thoughts on Afghanistan

I have recently returned from Afghanistan where I was an election observer with Democracy International (DI).  I am not an expert on Afghanistan, so I will refrain from commenting extensively on it.  For good analyses, see DI’s Afghanistan blog, Democracy Arsenal, fellow election observer Brian Katulis, and Michael Allen.

From what I have read and seen in Afghanistan, the problem boils down to three basic points:

  1. Afghanistan is suffering from a security gap and a services gap.  International forces are essential for filling the former while the latter is largely the responsibility of the Afghan government (through supported by foreign aid).
  2. US public opinion is firmly against sending more troops to Afghanistan and it is not clear that US foreign policy interests dictate a lengthy and expensive commitment to Afghanistan (see numerous posts from Democracy Arsenal).
  3. The services gap is in large measure a result of the rampant corruption in the Afghan government.

By examining these three points together, I think we can get a sense of where US policy towards Afghanistan is heading.  Given the skepticism among the public and an increasing number of foreign policy experts towards the war in Afghanistan, the Obama administration is unlikely to be able to convince Congress to allocate greater resources to defeating the Taliban.  Rather, the Government of Afghanistan will first need to demonstrate its commitment to this objective.  This is as it should be, since we cannot beat the Taliban without strong cooperation from the government and people of Afghanistan.  At a minimum this would seem to require that the Government of Afghanistan get serious about curbing corruption and improving services at the local level.  Unfortunately, President Karzai’s tolerance for massive corruption suggests that if he wins the election, this commitment is unlikely to materialize.  Whether Abdullah Abdullah can implement these reforms should he prevail is not clear.


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