By Karl Reiner
The Afghan government is engaged in a tough balancing act, trying to foster national identity while at the same time dodging ethnic and religious pitfalls. It faces an intimidating task in trying to unite the Afghan people while avoiding a repeat of past mistakes. Many observers have concluded that the Afghan government is not up to the task.
It is hard to foster literacy and civic education in a traditional multiethnic society hostile to outside influence. Attempts to change the old ways can meet with resistance. The people promoting rights for women and education for girls are being shot dead.
Kinship and ethnicity are important in Afghan social and political life. Due to the lack of a sense of national identity, ethnicity plays an overriding role in Afghan politics. Each ethnic group wants to gain political power at the expense of other groups.
Many Afghans believe the central government in Kabul is more corrupt than the Taliban. Mired in ethnic politics, it has winked at corruption and neglected governance. It is viewed as incompetent, having done little to provide services at the local level.
In the recent Kabul Bank failure, losses are estimated at between $861 and $910 million. While executives and share-holders profited, political interference has blocked prosecution of the perpetrators.
The Taliban believe time and God are on their side. They are using the ethnic and economic situation to attract recruits. Fighters can help resist the corrupt government in Kabul. Recruits can fight for Islam, defying the Western occupiers bent on destroying it.
The central government's failures and the large presence of U.S. and NATO troops led to anti-foreigner resentment. The average Afghan is concerned about the damage inflicted to homes, property loss and civilian casualties. "All we want is security, whether from you or the Taliban" is a phrase often repeated to foreign troops and aid workers.
People are afraid of the Afghan police. The police are accused of a large amount of crime, of collecting unofficial taxes at checkpoints. The Afghan national army is not considered to be much better. Western forces are fighting to free areas from Taliban control. The effort will fail if the liberated population has no trust in the Afghan army or police.
At the present time there are few competent Afghan soldiers and policemen. People dressed in Afghan uniforms are shooting coalition soldiers. These insider attacks have killed 46 and wounded 85 through early December.
The U.S./NATO efforts to help unify a fragmented society have met with spotty results. Current U.S. strategy calls for the Afghan forces to take over security in 2014. To adequately train 350,000 to 400,000 soldiers and police (many of them illiterate) by 2014 is a colossal undertaking. Afghanistan's future may depend on how well it works out.
The West went to Afghanistan with a liberal modernization mindset. That made it easy to get some things wrong in a war-torn, deeply conservative, traditional society. In its early days, the effort in Afghanistan was also hampered by the diversion of resources to Iraq.
The U.S. military works best when it can focus on the destruction of enemy forces. In the Afghan counterinsurgency effort, soldiers had to become social workers, community project managers and judges. The task was made more difficult by the unfamiliar environment, strange customs and the lack of language skills.
Afghanistan's neighbors may not want a totally stable Afghanistan. Iran and Pakistan are regional rivals, they share borders with Afghanistan. To further complicate matters, Iran and the U.S. are at loggerheads over nuclear and regional issues.
Pakistan's misguided policy treats Afghanistan as a pawn in its struggle with India. As the Pakistanis see it, the triumph over the Soviet Union gave them the right to influence events in Kabul. Pakistan wants to retain a degree of influence in Afghanistan.
Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate has always had murky links to Taliban commanders. The U.S. caused Taliban downfall was not necessarily seen as good for Pakistan's interests.
Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state of 180 million beset with financial problems. Its debt load is unsustainable without outside help. The country's tax revenues generate only 9.1% of GDP, one of the lowest rates in the world. Many in Pakistan believe a large part of the aid flowing to Afghanistan should be rightly going to them.
The mostly unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost over $4 trillion. America has suffered over 2,000 deaths and over 8,000 wounded in the Afghan war. As the U.S. and NATO forces slog onward public support slowly wanes, 53% of Europeans and 44% of Americans favor immediate withdrawal.
Analysts are beginning to review the American reaction to the events of September 11, 2001. The attacks may have provoked an angry United States into employing a massive use of force when less may have achieved better results. It is a question lurking in the background as the administration grapples with the problem of Afghanistan.