A New Way Forward in Afghanistan

“There is no doubt that the situation [in Afghanistan] is deteriorating, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are growing stronger in the region… President Obama has put out a new strategy… and now Afghanistan has become the remembered war instead of the forgotten war,” said Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, in his opening remarks at the CAP-hosted event “A New Way Forward in Afghanistan” last Friday. The event also marked the release of the new CAP report "Sustainable Security in Afghanistan: Crafting an Effective and Responsible Strategy for the Forgotten Front."

A panel of experts, including former Afghan Interior Minister Ali Jalali, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute Dr. Fredrick W. Kagan, and Slate Magazine columnist Fred Kaplan, joined Korb to discuss the report, President Barack Obama’s new strategy, and the current situation in Afghanistan.

“People in Afghanistan believe that the election [this August] is an opportunity to start over,” said Minister Jalali. If Afghans see this election as a legitimate and fair democratic process, then it could have a cathartic effect on the country and facilitate a transition from conflict to peace. However, “if people in the south do not have access to voting it will be hard for people to believe in the process,” said Jalali. The Afghan people’s perceptions of this electoral process will be vital to effectively creating a stable centralized Afghan state.

Afghanistan has experienced a great deal of decentralization in its governance structures since 2001. In 2004 the Afghan people adopted a constitution for a centralized government, but this has not been entirely successful. Creating a stable government that is capable of providing for the basic needs of its people will be essential to containing Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan. In order to do this, “we can’t go back to the old system; we can only bring people together through democratic integration,” said Jalali.

“Why are we in Afghanistan?” asked Kagan, “not to fight Al Qaeda because there are only a few of them there.” Afghanistan has become the critical front in the struggle against many different terrorist groups that are essentially using the country as their “playground” said Kagan. A major reason why we are there is that the region is so interconnected that stability in one area is a necessary prerequisite to stability in another.

This is especially true of the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. “A win in Afghanistan will not win Pakistan but it is an essential precondition to success in the region,” said Kagan. Kaplan disagreed, and said it’s really the other way around. “We must solve the problem of Pakistan to solve Afghanistan, and Obama is not into it deep enough—he’s still being tentative,” said Kaplan.

One vital step we must take, according to both Kagan and CAP’s report, is to funnel more aid directly though the Afghan government. This is crucially important to establishing the credibility of the government, which is necessary to build a stable state. “We haven’t done enough of this because people are so allergic to corruption,” said Kagan. “However, if you go right to the people with aid you undermine the government.”

“Afghanistan is an eminently winnable war,” said Kagan, “I think Obama understands that and his strategies are fundamentally the right approach.” Over the past eight years U.S involvement in Afghanistan has been unfocused and lacking in clear goals and objectives. Yet President Obama’s new strategies are the beginnings of a cohesive agenda for Afghanistan that marks a departure from President George W. Bush’s approach. “For the first time in eight years there is a relationship between the goals for Afghanistan and the strategies to achieve those goals,” praised Jalali.

In order to create a truly stable Afghan state, the Afghan people must be in control of their lives and their future. Investments must be made to create Afghan police forces and armies, so that eventually they can take charge of their own national security. “By 2020 Afghanistan can and will be a stable state that is at peace with its neighbors… but it will take time and can only happen when the government is in charge,” Jalali concluded.

Featured Panelists:

Minister Ali Jalali, Former Afghan Interior Minister; Distinguished Professor, National Defense University
Dr. Frederick W. Kagan, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute
Fred Kaplan, "War Stories" columnist, Slate Magazine

Discussion Moderated by:

Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress


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