It's only now - as we are entering the eighth year of the US-led international intervention in Afghanistan and while the situation is degrading by the day - that the US seems to realize there is a need to overhaul its strategy. But the remedy offered - i.e., more US and allied boots on the ground - shows a misunderstanding of the mechanics in that country.
We have erred so far away from what the outcome of years of conflict and financial/human efforts and sacrifices in Afghanistan could have/should have produced that it is not unreasonable to be willing to go back to the drawing board and do some serious rethinking - this time with the benefit of the lessons learned during these past seven years.
Nothing is irrevocable. I briefly lay out here what I think are the four legs - interdependent and to be implemented concurrently - on which a new comprehensive strategy in Afghanistan should be built:
1. Put the Afghan Army on steroids: Fast-pace the build-up of the Afghan Army so that it quickly reaches a minimum of 150,000 - and ideally 250,000 - men. The Afghan Army does not have to reach the standards of Western elite forces to be efficient. On their home turf, in addition to more than a minimum of training and decent equipment, soldiers need a fatter paycheck, incentives, and a government that can inspire confidence.
2. Reorient the mission of all US and international troops: Foreign troops must cease all operations inside Afghanistan to exclusively concentrate - under a new UN mandate and with specific geographic delimitations - on the border area with Pakistan and hermetically close it. Security operations within the main Afghan territory should be devolved to Afghan security forces. At this time, the somewhat uncontrolled presence of foreign troops on its soil not only violates Afghanistan's sovereignty, but it also antagonizes growing portions of the population, especially considering the increasing number of civilians killed by ‘friendly fire.'
3. Dramatically increase pressure on Pakistan: Islamabad, by delaying its efforts and only half-heartedly going after Al-Qaeda and affiliated leaders, has allowed extremist organizations advocating violence to prosper again and diligently work from within its territory towards the destabilization of not only Afghanistan but Pakistan itself. Washington and its allies should firmly pressure Islamabad - including by imposing sanctions - to rein in its military and intelligence apparatus (ISI) as well as halt cross-border militant violence. In the case of Pakistan, a ‘carrot-and-stick' approach in needed.
4. Overhaul the Afghan political process: The Government in Afghanistan has to change. It is an inefficient, feeble and unfortunately corruption-plagued entity that has not been able to prove itself worthy of the expectations of the international community or that of the Afghan people. The new process would involve a more assertive and independent-minded United Nations - unlike its role during the 2001 ‘Bonn Process' - as facilitator and guarantor. The UN would appoint a triumvirate of impartial elder statesmen - ideally former UN envoys to Afghanistan - who would come up with a list of seven independent Afghan personalities tasked with proposing essential changes/reforms - including new leadership and a new cabinet - that would put Afghanistan back on track and restore confidence inside and out. A Berlin-style UN sponsored conference would give its seal of approval to the process as well as set clear goals with a timetable for all major partners - i.e. Afghan Government, US, UN, European countries, Pakistan, etc.
Afghanistan faces many challenges beside or related to the war itself - booming narco-business can be cited as a manifest one. But none of the problems plaguing that country today can be resolved without restoring security and stability. The last seven years have been a failure and a terrible waste in that regard. It is about time to change strategy and come up with new approaches.
Dr. Assem Akram is the author of two books on modern Afghan History and two works of fiction. (email@example.com)
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Morgan Sheeran: Afghanistan's Need for European Expertise
- Florian Broschk: Kickstarting a New Debate on Afghanistan
- Abbas Daiyar: Negotiating with Taliban is Admitting Defeat