Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Is There Any Hope for Peacebuilding in Afghanistan?

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Is There Any Hope for Peacebuilding in Afghanistan?

Article excerpt

Peace, security, and stability continue to evade Afghanistan despite the presence of over 100,000 foreign troops and a burgeoning Afghan national army and police force.1 In addition, even though the country has received billions in aid and assistance, its social, economic, and political systems remain in a dire state,2 with Afghans themselves showing little faith in the reconstruction efforts.3

The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, supported by the international community,4 had two aims. The first was to capture or kill Usama bin Ladin along with senior al-Qa'ida and Taliban members. The second aim was to end Afghanistan's incessant instability through "peacebuilding."5

The strategy initially seemed to work as senior Taliban and al-Qa'ida activists escaped the onslaught of Operation Enduring Freedom by going to Pakistan and other locations or surrendering to coalition forces, thereby creating the notion that the strategy was correct and appropriate.6 The "peacebuilding" effort also appeared to be on track; following international meetings in Bonn (2001) and Tokyo (2002), an Afghan Interim Administration was established. The process toward rebuilding Afghanistan also appeared to be moving forward, with preparation for elections and the adoption of an Afghan constitution.7

However, the optimism was masked by the fact that things were slowly unraveling, as disparity between the mission's goals and what was possible became clearer. Professor Anatol Lieven, Chair of International Relations and Terrorism Studies in the War Studies Department, King's College, London and a Senior Fellow of the New America Foundation, writing in 2007, pointed out that the efforts in Afghanistan were never likely to succeed because the strategies pursued by the international community were incompatible. Lieven identified five strategies the international community was seeking:

1. Victory in the war against the Taliban.

2. The transformation of Afghanistan into an effective and democratic state.

3. Eliminating or undermining Afghanistan's ability to serve as terrorist base.

4. Reducing Afghanistan's position as the world's leading opium provider.

5. Preserving NATO as a meaningful international military organization.8

In 2010, there appears to be no end to the conflict in Afghanistan. So great is the frustration that several contributing countries have called for a strategy that includes such ideas as speaking with "Moderate Taliban"9 or withdrawal.10 Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign secretary declared, "The solution to a war is always to talk to your enemies, unless one party triumphs."11 Kouchner and others stress that the Afghan Taliban is a heterogeneous force, raising the prospect that one could persuade some Taliban to switch allegiance,12 with Islamism giving way to post-Islamism.13

Linked to the desire to speak with "Moderate Taliban" is the growing unpopularity of the Afghan War among the contributing countries and the belief that the war itself is "unwinnable."14 These changes compelled General David Petraeus, commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S. Force Commander (USFOR-A) to engage in a "media blitz" to persuade Americans-as the largest contributors to the operation-not to abandon Afghanistan15 so that it would not revert to being the terrorist sanctuary that it was under the Taliban.

Although this is a laudable consideration, it fails to reflect a number of realities: First, Islamist terrorists no longer need Afghanistan, as there are many other locations that they can use for their campaign, starting with the Pakistan's North West Frontier Province located next to Afghanistan; Islamist terrorists also have Somalia in the Horn of Africa16 and Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula. In other words, there are plenty of "ungoverned territories" providing Islamist terrorists with places from which they can launch attacks against the West.17

Second, it remains unclear how much of a threat Islamist terrorism of the al-Qa'ida mode poses to the international community,18 especially with the increase in home-grown radicalism. …

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