7 Pillars for Success in Afghanistan

Security force member stands over a military car before leaving the site of a suicide attack followed by a clash between Afghan forces and insurgents after an attack on Iraq embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 31, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

The military alone is not enough.

Alongside the vital decisions on security issues, however, are the essential tasks of maintaining an effective partnership with Kabul and other key Afghan actors, including helping to keep the dynamics of Afghan domestic politics supportive of U.S. objectives. The U.S. leadership team in country, the ambassador, U.S. Forces Commander and their deputies, need to sustain and strengthen partnerships to achieve better government performance and to encourage political processes which are perceived as an effective and legitimate alternative to the Taliban. This is tough work. The current government of President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah spent much of its first two years in office divided over needed appointments and reforms. U.S. officials and international allies worked hard to help find ways forward and break logjams. The government’s performance has improved over the past year, with more reforms in budget execution and in anti-corruption efforts evident, but much more is needed. In recent months, serious factional splits and more sharp criticisms of President Ghani have emerged, undermining the government’s authority. The major set of “diplomatic” tasks for the United States includes providing support and encouragement: 1) for continued reforms and better service delivery by the government; 2) for Afghans reaching agreements for holding 2018 parliamentary elections; and 3) for helping find ways that the inevitable political divisions as parliamentary and then presidential elections approach not seriously undermine the war effort or the popular perception of the government’s legitimacy. Additional political reforms might be needed along the way. Working this set of issues will be no easy task, but is crucial.

Supporting Governance Reforms and Economic Growth

While not nation building, the United States and other donors must continue to work hard with Afghan officials to improve governance performance and to support a return to economic growth. This work ranges from tax collection to building roads and schools, and from delivery of health and other services to encouraging private sector job creation. To maintain and increase the support of the population, the government must be seen as helping to provide both security and other services. For the foreseeable future, U.S. and others’ assistance is essential to keep the government functioning (by filling a sizable budget gap), as well as to sustain improved service delivery and performance. Fighting corruption in the governmental, security and judicial systems is essential. This is work is needed to get better results for the assistance money being spent, but equally important, polls and studies consistently remind us how important it is for building popular legitimacy for the government in the struggle with the Taliban. The focus on better government and less corruption will require skilled, firm diplomacy to overcome resistance by those benefiting from corruption, as well as better results-driven, technical assistance and aid programs. Key will be the political will of those in power. President Ghani seems to be making progress, including with an Anti-Corruption Justice Center, but this needs to be a sustained effort, actively supported and monitored by international donors and U.S. officials.