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.

The other aspect of the civilian assistance pillar is to spark economic growth in the short-term and keep working toward longer-term economic development, including of Afghanistan’s natural resources. Given Afghanistan’s youth bulge, massive unemployment rates and poor economic growth, there is a need for job creation, this means working closely with the government and other donors and the private sector to stimulate the rural and urban economies. At the same time, programs and policies need to support longer term efforts to grow the agricultural and small manufacturing sectors. In this connection, steps are needed to stop the illegal plundering of minerals and other resources and narcotics production, which has soared in recent years and created significant income for the Taliban. The narcotics challenge is a real conundrum, but should be tackled. Simultaneously, the government, donors, and potential investors should move ahead to develop what many studies suggest are abundant supplies of minerals and natural resources. This will not be a near term solution for Afghanistan’s budget needs. The projects will take years, but they will provide some economic benefits and hope. For both economic and governance assistance, a serious review of existing programs should be conducted. That review should consider how to get more U.S. civilian presence outside the embassy walls in Kabul, including to U.S. military bases around the country. The most recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan flagged this issue.

A More Constructive Pakistan

Pakistan has been a factor of failure and necessity for success in Afghanistan. Washington relies on Islamabad for supply of the effort in Afghanistan, yet the Taliban and other radical groups use parts of Pakistan as safe havens. Many believe this has been with the active support of parts of the Pakistan government and has cost U.S. efforts in Afghanistan dearly. Whatever the reality of Pakistani support for the Taliban and others, to get more success on the ground, the Taliban and similar groups have to be squeezed more in and/or by Pakistan. This is a major challenges in the current U.S. policy review. Can Pakistan’s cooperation be improved with a mix of levers and incentives? If not, should the United States act unilaterally to increase pressure on the Taliban and the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, which is behind many terrorist acts in Afghanistan? How should U.S. policy factor in Pakistan’s nuclear status, its own complicated domestic political scene, and its rivalry with India? Whatever the review’s conclusions, managing relations with Pakistan and its role in Afghanistan will be tremendously important. It will require the intense involvement of senior U.S. officials, in coordination with the ambassador in Pakistan, as well as the use of serious levers of U.S. influence and power, including via the role of third countries such as China and India.

A Pathway for Afghan Reconciliation

Few observers believe that the situation is ripe for a process to bring the Taliban and Kabul together to explore a peaceful solution. But many believe the United States should have the staffing and mechanisms ready to encourage such a political process, talking with Afghans, international partners and others about prospects. This will not be quick or easy, as was evident from failed efforts when the United States and its partners had 130,000 troops in Afghanistan. Many Afghanistan experts argue that pursuing reconciliation needs to be part of a successful strategy.

Maintaining International Support