Afghanistan: Success and Failure of the past Decade

Posted in Afghanistan | 22-Jul-13 | Author: Prof. Dr. Ludger Kuehnhardt

The Afghanistan Research Team of the independent World Security Network Foundation with author Prof. Ludger Kühnhardt (center), Dr. Mario Ohle (right side) and Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann landing at  Kabul Military Airport: “The excessive donor-dependency of Afghan institutions has rather supported the rent-seeking-structures in the Afghan social fabric. It has also generated an overly strong bureaucratization in order to coordinate and integrate external policy approaches with Afghan national objectives- The powerful international coalition at work in Afghanistan remains limited in advancing an inclusive peace and reconciliation process which needs to include not only the internal enemies of consolidated constitutional rule but also the external strategic interests, most notably those of the double-tongued Pakistan.”

First things first: The impressive ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) operation in Afghanistan is multilateralism at its best. The courage and commitment shown by soldiers from 48 nations affords our highest esteem. These men and women are dedicated to the peaceful stability of a secure Afghanistan. They represent the best values of our globe. They practice and advance military professionalism in the management of world order. Respect!

When taking a closer look at Afghanistan, clearly one of the most difficult countries on this earth, it is essential to differentiate. Would you follow superficial media reporting only, the story of Afghanistan in 2013 - twelve years after 9/11, the fall of the Taliban regime and the installation of the UN-approved International Security Assistance Force -  is one of growing uncertainty, fragile security and increasing violence. It is easy to get hypnotized by the magic "end of 2014"-calendar, meaning the termination of the ISAF mission on December, 31 2014. But it is not enough to understand the current dynamics and future prospects for Afghanistan. When strolling through unspectacular neighborhoods of Kabul and talking to friendly citizens of this war-torn country, you feel one overriding desire: to live a life in normalcy. Unspectacular, decent, the Afghan way. In the faces of ordinary Afghans you can see the hardship, their nation has gone through for most of the past four decades. But you can also see the smile that reacts to a smile, the joy for living one's talents and the pleasure of the daily maneuvering of one's family. Most of Afghanistan is normal. Yet, the overall constellation of this rugged Southwest Asian country is complex.

Life at the Hindu Kush was never easy and will not be easy in the years to come. 115 degrees fahrenheit (46 celsius) or more in July, dust and stones, and the difficult management of water, infrastructure and economic activities have defined this land of transit since time immemorial. Organizing society and the body politic requires sophisticated talents and the ability to project respect and loyalty. The Afghans of all ethnic backgrounds are proud and want to shape their own ways of life. They have never been colonized and they do not like to be played around with. They want to determine their own destiny and to define the ways of life they cherish. The trouble is that there is more than one interpretation of what that means in Afghan reality. Hence, power struggles are part of the inherent dynamics of life in Afghanistan since the country took its modern shape in the 18th century.

This constellation explains the balance between success and failure when looking at the past decade of ISAF involvement. On the positive side of the equation stand a number of facts:

  • Afghanistan, in the meantime, is organized by a consolidated central government based on the most modern constitution in the history of the country.
  • The election cycles of 2004/2005 and 2009/2010 stabilized the establishment of a legitimate regime but also showed the limits of good governance and appropriate standards of electoral and legal processes.
  • Afghanistan has advanced the complicated marrying of modern constitutionalism with the traditions of a tribal society. The creation of the High Peace Council is one indicator for this, but the ongoing accommodation between old and new is also visible in the daily life of urban Afghanistan: traditions prevail, but the search for a cautious accommodation of modern ways is also present.
  • Afghanistan has seen progress in terms of education, including girl attendance of schools and universities; social services, including health care,  and infrastructure, including water and energy supply, have improved.
    • Afghanistan has established a new security apparatus, the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) with roughly 400,000 troops (260,000 Afghan National Army (ANA) and 160,000 Afghan National Police (ANP).
    • Afghanistan has consolidated the security situation in the Northern part of the country , especially in Balkh province, and in the Kabul area.

On the problematic side of the equation stand:

  • Afghanistan lacks the social rooting of political and, more general, public institutions. Personal loyalties matter more than abstract vertical institutional arrangements.
  • Afghanistan is constrained by a weak judiciary and by institutions that can exist on their own without the huge financial contribution of the donor community.
  • Afghanistan remains challenged by random bomb explosions exercised by enemies of the country with diverse interests (Talibans, warlords, bandits, criminals).
  • Afghanistan is struggling with a strong skepticism against too speedy "Westernization" and lacks a coherent inclusion of the Pashtu version of Islam into the social fabric of a modernizing society.
  • Afghanistan is burdened with a weak economy, seventy per cent of which are still based on drug production and smuggling. The promise of future explorations of raw materials does not generate new revenues for the state within the next five to ten years, at best.
  • Afghanistan is confronted with a huge demographic challenge that translates into the urgent need for millions of new and sustained jobs.

When looking at the international coalition that is guaranteeing the security and development of Afghanistan since 2001 the following strong points must be stressed:

  • The international coalition that has rallied behind the "war against terrorism" has proven the value of multilateralism in support of civilized behavior, non-violent notions of conflict resolution, and the readiness to back the value of freedom with the resolute support of military power.
  • The ISAF experience has contributed to the professionalism among many armies, including the German Bundeswehr. The Germans are providing the third largest contingent of ISAF. Militarily, Germans have never been that advanced into the vastness of Asia. Most remarkable: Germans are especially popular among ordinary Afghans.
  • The financial commitment made to peace, security and freedom in Afghanistan  - more than 700 billion US-$ for the military operation since 2001, and almost 40 billion US-$ for the reconstruction of Afghanistan between 2004 and 2016  - is without any parallel in modern international relations.

It is only honest to also mention the main issues of concern as far as the international commitment to Afghanistan is concerned:

  • The military dimension in the quest for a renaissance of Afghanistan is still excessive and, moreover, it has lasted too long, hence progressively leading to mistrust, especially toward the US while representing an overly militarized approach to human security.
  • The excessive donor-dependency of Afghan institutions has rather supported the rent-seeking-structures in the Afghan social fabric. It has also generated an overly strong bureaucratization in order to coordinate and integrate external policy approaches with Afghan national objectives.
  • The powerful international coalition at work in Afghanistan remains limited in advancing an inclusive peace and reconciliation process which needs to include not only the internal enemies of consolidated constitutional rule but also the external strategic interests, most notably those of the double-tongued Pakistan.      

 

While Afghanistan is preparing for the second presidential elections completely organized by Afghans in April 2014, the international coalition is preparing to redeploy its troops and equipment. Both processes evoke a certain degree of nervousness: What will happen post-2014? This is the overall question posed and discussed in the green zone of Kabul and elsewhere in the country. Most of the answers given are speculative. Yet, beside the unknown unknowns are the known unknowns, that is: projections based on the current situation. Among policy makers, consensus is high that the current degree of stability and security can prevail post-2014. It is also consensus that the redeployment of  ISAF - and its possible replacement by a follow-up training mission called "Resolute Support" changes the dynamics in internal Afghan affairs as well as in the overall global context of the Afghan question. With the precision of a stealth bomber, ISAF forces are preparing the immense logistical task of redeploying troops and material. With its genuine way of advancing things step by step, Afghanistan's government is preparing for the post 2014-era, which will be a post-Karzai era.

For the ordinary citizens of Afghanistan, the main issue is how to organize their daily lives. Children, who can go to school again unattended; traffic jam that does not produce the paralyzing fear of yet another bomb attack; fruit and vegetable markets catering to the ordinary families; bakers enjoying the art of baking bread in the traditional oven; butchers suffering from the smell that comes out of  the open sewage canals in front of their shops with fresh lamb hanging in the burning sun; jewelers hoping for better days to come to sell more lapis lazuli gems mined since the third millennium BC in the still unstable Badakhshan province west of the Chinese border; tea shop owners praising the presence of Germans so much that they serve them tea for free; shoe makers cleaning shoes in front of the main downtown mosque; young woman radiating a sense of fashion in the selection of their chador or even hiqab; burka-clothed beggars receiving the obligatory Islamic charity for their baby; children playing on top of a destroyed Soviet tank on Babi Mathu Hill overlooking the valleys of Kabul with the impressive Bala Hissar citadel in the middle; members of the elite and their well armored body guards stretching for their lunch break on the outdoor divan in a downtown restaurant - these are the images of daily routine that are all too often under-reported from Afghanistan.

One street scene, however, is more telling than many words of analysis: Without any hesitation, shame or conflict of aim, a street vendor is selling photos of practically all leaders Afghanistan has experienced in the past hundred years. In an almost anarchic manner the photos are hanging on a wall. The only absence: Omar Mullah or other Taliban leaders are not for sale. But the rest of this street scene is indicative for a country where power sharing has always been the best bet to keep stability and peace. For now, the Afghans are learning again this old virtue of theirs. Power sharing is what will keep the political process alive post- 2014. But the photos also remind local clients and the foreign observer of another element that defines public life in Afghanistan: "Yes, he has the looks of an hero," says a young customer about Ahmad Shah Massoud. The man can hardly remember this key figure in the resistance to the Soviet occupation who was killed on September 9, 2001. But once a hero is always a hero in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzais photo is on sale, too. But the relative scarcity of his portrait on the photographer's wall is striking. Afghans are preparing for yet another round of power sharing in this society which continues to search for sustained normalcy.

The Afghanistan Research Team of the independent World Security Network Foundation with author Prof. Ludger Kühnhardt (center), Dr. Mario Ohle (right side) and Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann landing at  Kabul Military Airport: “The excessive donor-dependency of Afghan institutions has rather supported the rent-seeking-structures in the Afghan social fabric. It has also generated an overly strong bureaucratization in order to coordinate and integrate external policy approaches with Afghan national objectives- The powerful international coalition at work in Afghanistan remains limited in advancing an inclusive peace and reconciliation process which needs to include not only the internal enemies of consolidated constitutional rule but also the external strategic interests, most notably those of the double-tongued Pakistan.”

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