On Point: Afghanistan Six Years on

by Austin Bay
September 18, 2007

By the first week of October 2001, American's chit-chat class had lost patience with America's new war in Afghanistan. Television's hype-drenched talk shows claimed the Pentagon had botched it. The gloomiest prognosticators (most of them from the political left) foresaw a Himalayan defeat, with U.S. soldiers outsmarted by wily, inspired "resistance fighters." As fighting raged and Afghan winter blizzards arrived, millions would starve.

A column of mine published during that period argued for patience, perseverance and a little faith. "Afghan demographics -- religious, tribal and ethnic fractures -- create a politically fragmented society," the column noted. "It takes time to seed CIA and Special Forces teams among rural tribes, particularly in the Pushtun-dominated south. Developing personal relationships with tribal elders is a glacial process. Green Beret majors have to sit down and sip a lot of tea, as chieftains scrutinize promises of aid. Uncle Sugar wants my warriors now, but where will the Americans be in three years?"

Why should the locals worry about three (or more) years of American commitment? After the 1975 American bug-out from Vietnam -- which ultimately led to the deaths of millions of innocents in Vietnam and Cambodia -- citizens of the world had good reason to doubt U.S. commitment and staying power. When the United States quit Somalia in the wake of the "Blackhawk Down" battle in Mogadishu, enemies like Osama bin Laden concluded America was "a weak horse."

But come September 2007, six years later, the Afghan chieftains who lined up with America know they made a good decision. Fundamental change takes a long time, especially when a war-ravaged society like Afghanistan must expand the "human capital" of modernity -- produce the skilled teachers, accountants, electricians, nurses, policemen and farmers who brace stable, prosperous communities.

U.S. and international-sponsored Provincial Reconstructions Teams (PRTs) play a critical role in this type of "capacity building," Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Said T. Jawad, told me in a phone interview earlier this week. PRTs have a number of responsibilities, including classic developmental tasks like building roads and power-generation infrastructure.

However, "the best way of making use of PRTs is to engage them in building capacity," Jawad said, "... by training teachers, teaching tax collectors, helping police officer to be truly professional."

Jawad suggested that, at the moment, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) aren't as effective as PRTs at this kind of training. But these types of skills "are the ones that must be enhanced to build a civil society."

"Six years after 9-11," he said, "while we have made significant progress in Afghanistan in the formal building of institutions -- particularly the (Afghan) Army -- we will need to enhance the capacity of Afghan government to deliver services." Education of "service deliverers" is essential to improving that situation."

"The Afghan people still do not feel safe," the ambassador acknowledged. "Protection provided by international forces and the Afghan government is not adequate."

Since this is particularly true along the Afghan-Pakistan border, I asked Jawad if a "cross-border counter-attack" by Afghani and allied forces to destroy Taliban and al-Qaida bases in Pakistan was inevitable.

"There is no doubt that the sanctuaries are operating on the other side of the border," he replied. Pakistan has a capable military but "lacks full commitment" to deal with the terrorists. Pakistanis must be convinced that "it is in their best national interest, and in the interest of regional and global stability, to act."

At the moment, Afghanistan prefers to pursue a long-term diplomatic strategy with Pakistan. "Afghanistan has promised Pakistan we will be their best ally," the ambassador said. "We will provide them access into Central Asia. ... I think more and more Pakistan's administration and military are realizing supporting terrorism is a very dangerous game. It completely undermines Pakistan and destabilizes it, as well."

To pinch a phrase from 2001, Afghan diplomats are "sipping a lot of tea" with their Pakistani counterparts. Their diplomacy is a frustrating process -- as they talk, suicide bombers kill on a daily basis. NATO, the Afghan Army and the United States may launch a cross-border counterattack, but the diplomatic approach acknowledges Pakistan's political fragility. It is encouraging that the Afghanis are assuring the Pakistanis that Afghanistan is a "committed ally."

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


On Point Archives:

On Point Archives: Current 2022  2021  2020  2019  2018  2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002  2001



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close