Rebuilding Afghanistan: The U.S. Role*
Reconstructing Afghanistan will be a monumental task - one that will require broad international support, significant human and material resources, and an unwavering political commitment over time. The size of the country, the "tough neighborhood" in which it finds itself, the scope of the human needs, the absolute devastation of the infrastructure, and the dearth of local professional capacity combine to make rebuilding Afghanistan an immense challenge. The ongoing war against terrorists inside and outside Afghanistan also complicates the task for the United States, as does the corresponding need to leave a relatively small U.S. "footprint" in the country.
Despite Afghanistans unique situation and needs, however, past post-conflict reconstruction efforts around the globe should help provide some guidance as the U.S. government and the international community undertake this new challenge. As part of a larger inquiry into the capacities and gaps that exist in the U.S. ability to respond to complex emergencies, the Post-Conflict Reconstruction project has developed a framework to help understand the key challenges to rebuilding a country following conflict. This paper seeks to distill some of the lessons from previous efforts and apply them to the case of Afghanistan.
The United States has a number of national interests at stake that call for significant and sustained involvement over time. First and foremost, the U.S. must make certain that Afghanistan will not be used to provide safe harbor to terrorists. Second, the U.S. must ensure that Afghanistan does not destabilize the entire region, given the political fragility and WMD capabilities of its neighbors. Third, Afghanistan is the source of approximately 70 percent of the worlds opium. Fourth, having gone to war in Afghanistan, the U.S. must prove its commitment to securing the peace, not only in that beleaguered state, but also in the wider Central Asian neighborhood. If the United States and the international community fail to improve the situation of people living in the region, many will believe that Americas war is indeed against Muslims a conclusion that would have chilling consequences for U.S. interests.
These significant interests necessitate that the United States evaluate its own comparative advantages and allocate significant resources accordingly. It is absolutely essential that the United States play a constructive role in a number of areas, not just in the military arena. If the United States does not definitively debunk the myth that it "destroys but does not build," it will face an uphill battle finding allies for this and future rounds of the fight against terrorism.
The key to bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan is to establish an ongoing political process by which various Afghan tribes, leaders, and factions develop a common national agenda. This political constituting process must offer opportunities for broad and widespread participation of various Afghan groups at all levels, and must realistically account for current power realities in the country. The roadmap agreed to by the Afghan factions represented in Bonn represents only a first step towards a long-term process of creating a unified, representative, and stable government. It will require attention not only to the political process itself, but also to security and public order needs, justice concerns, and economic and social needs. A new, stable Afghan government must be an essential partner in the struggle to prevent terrorists from using the countrys territory once again.
The centerpiece of the international strategy to assist in these constituting processes will be striking the right balance between consolidating central governing institutions at the national level and enhancing citizen participation at the local level. It would be shortsighted for the international community to focus exclusively on one at the expense of the other. The nature of the challenge requires a simultaneous, dual approach. Whereas international support will pay greatest dividends in the security and justice sectors when applied to create national institutions, support for governance and social/economic needs will be required at both the local and national levels. The central governing institutions charged with providing law and order, administering political affairs, and delivering basic social and economic services, were all weakened by two decades of war and misrule. They must either be restored or altogether newly constructed. At the same time that key national institutions must be built to make Afghanistan a functional country. However, the Afghans themselves will have to decide over time to what extent they want certain key powers centralized or decentralized. In any case, in the current environment of widespread disenfranchisement due to 20 years of war and economic breakdown, there is a real need to develop channels for local participation and decision-making in political, economic, and social processes.
Any strategy for Afghanistan should be integrated into a broader approach to the Central Asia region. Afghanistans neighbors are capable of helping or harming Afghanistans stability and development, and, simultaneously, are themselves affected by developments in the country. International attention to Afghanistan and its neighbors should be calibrated to maintain strategic balance in the region and to minimize threats to stability and security emanating from the territory of any state. This includes serious attention to radical Islamic movements not only in Afghanistan, but also in Uzbekistan, and Pakistan. Among other things, this will require significant support for secular education systems and law enforcement. Simply pushing the problem from one country to another is not in the U.S. or international communitys interests. On the security front, the United States and its friends must support a regional strategy to address the drug trade and arms flows that have not only fueled conflict in Afghanistan, but that have also undermined social well-being, good governance and stability in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and even Iran.
There is also an important role for regional planning and cooperation for mutually supportive development in the region. Afghanistans economic potential depends on economic links to neighbors for everything from markets for its agricultural products, infrastructure investments, and a possible natural gas pipeline. Given high debt burdens and severe governance challenges throughout the region, addressing economic and political development in both a regional and bilateral context is imperative.
International Division of Labor
While primary responsibility for rebuilding Afghanistan rests with the people of the country, the United States and international community must avoid repeating the costly mistake of leaving Afghanistan to its fate after military victory is secured. With its weak central structures, various factions, and covetous neighbors, Afghanistan will require significant assistance from a range of countries and international institutions.
Coordination of international actors is more important in Afghanistan than in past reconstruction efforts due to Afghanistans notable centrifugal tendencies; tendencies that will be exacerbated if not managed properly. Indeed, so great is the danger that the international community should think more in terms of a clear "division of labor" than about simple "coordination." Key tasks should be clearly delegated to various actors based on their comparative advantages, keeping competition among donors to an absolute minimum. Ongoing oversight of the various actors should be provided by a strong, central authority in the form of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Unfortunately, the international community is not off to a good start in terms of donor coordination. Institutional rivalries have prevented setting up common, cooperative oversight structures, and an appropriate leadership role for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General has not yet been established. If a marked improvement is not realized by the end of the donor pledging conference in January, the entire effort in Afghanistan will be significantly compromised. This is an issue worthy of considerable diplomatic U. S. engagement.
One key area that will require special donor coordination is that of conditionalities on assistance. There are four major areas in which conditionality has already been discussed: clearing financial arrears; narcotics cooperation; human rights; and participation of women. Because the incipient Afghan government is so weak and so dependent on international assistance, conditionalities must be carefully calibrated.
A key step to effective coordination will be ensuring a comprehensive, joint assessment of Afghanistans needs, as was successfully done in Guatemala, and at least somewhat successfully in East Timor. This process should build on the initial World Bank/UNDP/ADB assessment prepared for the January donors conference, and should actively involve more Afghan participation, as well as that of other international actors. This would not only help create a common understanding of the challenges ahead among donors and Afghan leaders, it would also spare a fractured, weary Afghan society from the many repetitive and competing assessments that have already begun. This joint assessment approach should be agreed upon in January. While a joint assessment would help establish a division of labor with respect to specific responsibilities, some of the general comparative advantages of the various donors are already quite evident.
The United Nations should play a leadership role in three areas in particular: managing support for the political process in Afghanistan; overseeing donor coordination efforts; and managing humanitarian assistance programs. The Special Representative of the Secretary General should take the lead in supporting the political process, and should also be provided sufficient authority and resources to oversee coordination of all outside actors operating in Afghanistan. The UNs sponsorship of the Bonn agreement demonstrates its legitimacy and authority as a neutral representative in a politically charged environment. This impartiality will be critical in assisting and strengthening the Afghan interim authoritys ability to lay the foundations for the countrys future political structure. On the humanitarian side, UN agencies such as WFP, UNHCR, and UNICEF are already administering and disbursing humanitarian aid flows to vulnerable populations. In addition, UN agencies such as UNHCR, WHO, UNDP, and IOM have comparative advantages in everything from refugee repatriation, provision of key health services, community based social and economic development, and integration of the Afghan diaspora, among other issues.
Similarly, the World Bank, UNDP, and the Asian Development Bank should provide leadership in the economic rejuvenation of Afghanistan. They are sufficiently resourced and experienced to provide assistance in the areas of employment generation, infrastructure, and agriculture reform that will lay the foundation for trade, investment, and sustainable economic activity. The World Banks economic recovery programs should stress good governance practices in order to ensure efficiency and effectiveness. Additionally, the World Bank, in cooperation with the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General and UNDP, should administer and coordinate reconstruction funds through the establishment of a multi-donor "trust fund."
In addition to refraining from meddling in internal Afghan affairs, regional actors should also be prepared to play a helpful and supportive role by offering diplomatic and financial assistance for Afghanistans emerging political reorientation. On the diplomatic side, a "Friends of Afghanistan" group, consisting at a minimum of its neighbors (Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and China), plus the United States, Russia, the EU and Japan, should be assembled to provide political stability in the region, guarantee the sanctity of Afghanistans porous borders, and prevent spoilers from jeopardizing the success of Afghanistans government. Assistance to regional actors in dealing with their own internal development needs should be considered part of the larger vision of post-conflict reconstruction in the region.
The United States, due to its role in the military campaign and concerns about "superpower intentions" in the region, should not establish or maintain a large, high profile presence on the ground in Afghanistan. At the same time, there are a number of important actions the U.S. government can take to help Afghanistan in order to protect its own interests. The U.S. could avoid leaving a large "footprint" by assisting significantly through financial and diplomatic means. The U.S. will be well positioned to help promote the work of other multilateral actors through its position on the boards of international lending institutions, and its general interest in supporting open societies in Central Asia. Additionally, the U.S. has strong capacity to lead an external "over the horizon" rapid reaction force in support of the UN-authorized interim security force. Furthermore, the United States could continue to play a central role in the provision of humanitarian assistance.
Other bilateral donors, mainly EU members and Japan, should emphasize different areas for assistance. The UK is leading a UN-authorized multinational security force; Germany and France have offered significant military capabilities, and all other 12 EU members have announced their interest in participating. In addition to meeting these security requirements, EU countries should focus their assistance on financial and technical support for UN-administered humanitarian assistance programs and for long-range social and economic development. Similarly, Japan has offered limited military resources that could be used in supporting international peacekeeping initiatives. Japans sponsorship of the Tokyo donors conference is another indication of its commitment to supporting post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan. There may also be a role for China in supporting the regional infrastructure need. Participation by China in this larger project may be an important way to bring in a major regional actor. Turkey has indicated an interest in working with the Afghan interim administration on development of an Afghan police force and national army.
Substantive Pillars of Reconstruction
International support will be needed in four major areas: 1) Security; 2) Governance and Participation; 3) Justice and Reconciliation; and 4) Social and Economic Well-being. The needs in each will be analyzed below, with special attention to what the U.S. role could and should be in each area.
Before permanent security institutions can be built, transitional security arrangements will continue to be necessary. While these transitional security arrangements must depend largely on Afghans, the need for the International Security Assistance Force is likely to go beyond the initial six months agreed. While at least 18 nations have signaled their intention to contribute to this force, British and other European leadership will continue to be essential.
Another important aspect of security will be obtaining guarantees from all neighboring states to refrain from trying to control or unduly influence events in Afghanistan. UN monitors would be the logical choice to ensure that all parties implement agreements. Past efforts suggest that a "lead country" with significant resources, prestige, and acceptable impartiality and objectivity is required to provide general direction and coordination for a successful effort. If the U.K government seeks to hand-off this responsibility, an acceptable successor will need to be approved.
The critical security dilemma in Afghanistan is that despite the large numbers of men under arms, there are no central, national security institutions that can be depended upon to enforce any agreement made among different tribes and factions. Several of these groups are connected politically and financially to outside governments and organizations. Over the short to medium-term, some sort of intra-Afghan security arrangement will need to be secured without giving undue influence to the various warlords, including the newly appointed Deputy Defense Minister Abdul Rashid Dostum. Two processes must also be central to the restoration of security and the control of violence in the Afghan state: building a national army and demobilizing warring factions. Both processes must complement each other. Building a national army must be a top priority for the new government over the medium to long-term.
Demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration efforts will demand special attention. The only occupation of hundreds of thousands of Afghan men and boys for over a decade has been that of a "fighter." Interim Prime Minister Karzai and Defense Minister Fahim have announced that they intend to reduce the number of men under arms from an estimated 700,000 to create a new army of 200,000. If this process plays out as hoped, there will be a huge need to create opportunities for learning a new trade, schooling, and farming. Ultimately, the success of these efforts will depend upon re-establishing an economy capable of providing a significant number of jobs. Child soldiers will require special attention, but other fighters may just want to return to their villages and the agrarian life, provided adequate support is available.
Afghanistan will also require massive demining efforts, as well as the removal of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Decades of war have left whole swaths of the country uninhabitable. With an estimated 8-10 million mines, and an estimated 724 million square meters of mine-contaminated land in 27 of 29 provinces, Afghanistan has one of the worst mine problems in the world. The World Bank has recently placed cost estimates for the demining campaign at roughly $200 million for immediate needs, and $300 million over the long-term. The threat from land mines will need to be remedied if large numbers of refugees are to return and productive economic activities including agriculture resumed on the needed scale. Some former fighters may well be integrated into the demining programs as a first effort to return Afghans to their land.
Recommendations for U.S. Involvement
Governance and Participation
The agreement reached in Bonn on December 5 marks a significant step forward in the political reformation of Afghanistan. Starting on December 22, an Interim Authority consisting of various ethnic and geographic groups will be tasked with day-to-day governing responsibilities, including control over all armed groups, for the next six months. This authority will be made up of three distinct bodies: a 29-member administration, a Special Independent Commission to plan for the convention of an emergency Loya Jirga, and a Supreme Court. Within six months of this, the emergency Loya Jirga, convened by former king Zahir Shah, will decide on a Transitional Authority to govern the country until the adoption of a new constitution and subsequent elections for a permanent government. A constitutional Loya Jirga will undertake the process of developing this constitution within 18 months of the convening of the Transitional Authority.
Four major ethnic and geographic factions were included in the UN-brokered talks in Bonn that produced this ambitious roadmap. The international community should actively support this plan, in order to keep powerful warlords in check and further expand the circle of interests and players represented. The plan incorporates the needs of various Afghan elements, including the participation of women (two of the 29 members of the interim administration are female).
Given the ethnic composition and historic development of the country, finding the right balance between centralized authority and local control will pose an enormous challenge. The ultimate goal will be the creation of a national Afghan identity, and the creation of a capable, viable state. To stimulate regional and local participation in the formation of the future government, as well as to assist in providing services to the population, the international community should work through local shuras, or councils, wherever possible. Since 1997, the United Nations Development Program has been operating a "Poverty Eradication and Community Empowerment" (PEACE) program that operates at the sub-district level through shuras. This model appears to provide a solid base for expanding these types of programs throughout the country to support the implementation of the Bonn plan and to build confidence.
The Chairman of the Interim Administration, Hamid Karzai will have to satisfy several constituencies many of which have yet to form that run counter to his own interests, while lacking any meaningful power. His cabinet is composed of many factional representatives who may or may not have incentives to cooperate. In order to help Afghanistan move towards a system of good governance and widespread citizen participation, fundamental questions of the states relationship to the individual, ethnicity, religion, and other states, will need to be addressed up-front. International donors must let Afghans set the agenda and pace for their own future. Especially during the initial stages, in the absence of indigenous capacity, the international community must resist the urge to dominate the agenda. However, it must be vigilant about providing support to constituting processes and rights-based rules to foster inclusiveness and compromise.
Recommendations for U.S. Involvement:
Justice and Reconciliation
Consistently overlooked by the international community in reconstruction efforts, significant progress on justice and reconciliation needs will be absolutely essential to the prospects for peace and stability in Afghanistan. Justice and reconciliation will play out on two separate levels, one relating to Al Qaeda terrorists and those who have supported them, and another dealing with intra-Afghan conflicts. While justice for terrorists and their supporters has received a great deal of attention, little focus has been given to justice and reconciliation processes within Afghanistan.
Afghanistan will require significant support to rebuild a justice system and develop reconciliation processes for intra-Afghan grievances. This will be an immense challenge, as there are few functioning formal rule of law mechanisms in the country. Courthouses and jails are in disrepair, administrative and formal legal structures are largely non-existent, and virtually no judges or legal professionals have been produced in the last 15 years. The two major faculties of law (Islamic and secular) remain closed. An entire generation of prosecutors, judges, and court administrators must be educated and trained.
The scope of the challenge necessitates a comprehensive approach to rebuilding the justice system. The experiences of numerous other post-conflict cases suggest that piecemeal efforts, however extensive, will produce inferior results. Article II of the Bonn Agreement calls for the rebuilding of the "domestic justice system in accordance with Islamic principles, international standards, the rule of law, and Afghan legal traditions." The Judicial Commission that has been established to design the new system is central in defining what is required, and as such should be strongly supported.
Priority needs in the justice area should be addressed in a differentiated way, with varying degrees of external involvement. An informal, traditional system of justice has long been used in Afghanistans rural areas. This mixture of traditional tribal customs and Islamic law (Sharia), administered by respected members of the community, remained relatively intact even throughout the past two decades of war and the Taliban regime. Efforts to impose a formal legal system, such as used in the cities, during the 1970s, remained unsuccessful. For reasons of necessity and practicality, the international community should refrain from pushing for a formalization of rural justice systems.
The justice situation looks different in the major cities. It is imperative to reconstitute formal legal processes and institutions in the largest cities on a priority basis to complement efforts by the International Security Assistance Force to provide transitional law and order. Furthermore, Afghanistans urban centers already have experience with formal justice structures in effect during the 1960s and 1970s. These laws and codes, such as the Criminal Code, the Law on Criminal Procedure, or the Civil Code, could be starting points for a new formal legal system in Afghanistans major cities. Simultaneously, some of the former legal professionals in the country and abroad could facilitate reviving this formal system. According to estimates, one Afghan association of attorneys in Pakistan has over 250 members, many of whom are willing to return. The focus of international assistance in the near term should be placed on promoting and strengthening the formal legal system in the cities.
In some instances, the customary and formal Afghan justice systems may not be appropriate to address crimes that may threaten the viability of the peace process and the stability of the country. In such cases, whether they are war crimes, organized crime, terrorism, or killings committed by the UN force personnel, international actors should assert jurisdiction and investigate and prosecute international crimes. However, it will need to be resolved which actors should take responsibility for these crimes and which procedural codes should be applied.
Establishing a multiethnic, multireligious Afghan police force will be a fundamental part of securing law and order and will facilitate the territorial stabilization of the country. Along with maintaining order in a country armed to its teeth, a functioning border patrol system by Afghanistans police will be essential to regulate and curtail the flow of refugees and drugs. Afghanistans defunct police academy, last used by the Northern Alliance, needs to be rejuvenated with the help of the international community. Germany had taken the lead in establishing the academy decades ago, with Turkey and Egypt assisting as well. Recently, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi offered his governments help in training an Afghan police force. These international actors should also take part in developing an acceptable police monitoring system to sustain a professional and unbiased Afghan police force.
All sides in the war have carried out extra-judicial and arbitrary killings in areas they controlled, as well as attacks on civilian populations. During Taliban rule, religious police and Islamic courts carried out punishments such as stoning, flogging, beatings, amputations, and executions. The human rights situation for women and girls remains especially dire. Beyond justice and human rights, there is a great need for reconciliation mechanisms. Years of civil war and ethnic conflict have left deep psychological as well as physical scars. It will be up to the people of Afghanistan themselves to decide how to utilize the various justice and reconciliation options, including amnesty or prosecution of mujahadeen. The international community should be prepared to offer technical assistance to the interim administration to lay out the various options available.
Recommendations for U.S. Involvement
Social and Economic Well-Being
While large-scale famine has been avoided in Afghanistan this winter due to major efforts led by the World Food Program (and principally supported by the United States), additional steps are needed to prevent humanitarian problems that could jeopardize political, social, and economic rejuvenation of the country. The Afghan people continue to be threatened by a lethal combination of conflict, starvation, and the harsh Afghan winter. 1.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 3.5 million refugees in Pakistan and Iran will continue to tax international capacity, and may threaten political stability if not handled properly.
In addition to the need for immediate humanitarian assistance, numerous essential issues of economic and social well-being deserve the attention of the international community and the U.S. government. They include a revival of the agricultural sector and transportation networks, education, the role of the diaspora, revenue generation, human rights, and women.
Agricultural markets must be re-established. Despite the massive investment of international assistance over the past year, millions of Afghans remain at risk of severe malnutrition and starvation. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that the current crisis of population displacement is coinciding with the current planting season and a multi-year drought, meaning that next years crop yields will be even lower. Assistance is currently needed to restock seeds and livestock, develop irrigation systems, and jumpstart sustainable long-term food production. Refugee outflows from Afghanistan place undue burdens on surrounding countries infrastructures already at or beyond maximum operating capacity. The agriculture sector in Afghanistan contributes 53 percent of the GDP and employs 67 percent of labor. Regenerating a viable agricultural sector will improve the availability of food, and will provide temporary and permanent employment.
A partial reason for the difficulty in generating food supplies is the fact that Afghanistan has been a major source country for the cultivation, processing, and trafficking of opiate and cannabis products. In 2000, it produced more than 70 percent of the worlds supply of opium. The new government in Afghanistan will need to make a serious effort to help eradicate opium poppy fields. The agricultural reconstruction plan must integrate reconstruction of irrigation systems, absorptive labor capacity of the sector, a balance between external provision of immediate relief and incentives to increase domestic production, and crop substitution.
The establishment of local food and commodity markets will also require the repair and construction of transportation networks, especially those linking the northern and southern parts of the country. Afghanistan has just over 15 miles of railway and 13,125 miles of highway, with only 1,745 of those paved. Furthermore, the countrys telecommunications network has been largely destroyed over the last 20 years, including over 80 percent of the telecommunications in Kabul. The United States should work with the multilateral development banks to rebuild both transportation and telecommunications infrastructure.
Education must be made a top priority, with focus on several key areas. First, educational opportunities need to be provided as an option to help demobilize and reintegrate young combatants. Second, schools must be made available to women and girls to reestablish their role in Afghan society. Afghanistan is faced with nine illiterate women out of every ten, and only 3 percent of girls are receiving primary education. Third, special attention should be paid to the university in Kabul. The Taliban closed this once proud center of learning and social dynamism. Reopening the university might help to attract some Afghans back, and provide a locus for the Afghan intelligentsia to help address the many reconstruction needs of the country. The U.S. can help provide means for the large, and highly trained Afghan diaspora to have access and immigration rights to return to support its reconstruction.
Afghanistan, for many years the heart of trade throughout Central Asia, desperately needs foreign investments to revive that role. To date, companies have invested $30 billion in developing oil and gas fields in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan, but exportation of this resource to markets in the West involves expensive and lengthy pipelines. Recently, Washington has proposed a $3 billion pipeline from Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea, through Georgia, to Turkeys Mediterranean coast, with a section running through Afghanistan. This shorter pipeline would be much less costly, and if the next government in Afghanistan is able to guarantee internal security, the country could reap enormous economic benefits.
Any new government, with the staunch help of the international community must reverse the Talibans extreme subjugation of half of the Afghan population. The emancipation of women should not be viewed as a culturally insensitive imposition from the outside. Afghanistan has a strong history of womens involvement in society at all levels. Prior to the civil war and Taliban control, 70 percent of the schoolteachers, 50 percent of the government civilian workers, and 40 percent of the doctors in Kabul were women. Between 1963 and 1973, there were women continuously in the cabinet. This history may help to reestablish rights and central roles for women. At the same time, programs targeting education for women and girls will be necessary to restore this proud history to new generations of Afghans.
The potential of Afghanistans professional diaspora living all over the world must be tapped to contribute to a strengthening of the socio-economic sector. The positive effects of the return of a committed educated and skilled diaspora, such as increased investment and the opening of trade channels, are needed to reverse the substantial "brain drain" Afghanistan has suffered due to two decades of violent conflict. It is reasonable to expect negative consequences of diaspora returns, including reprisals and loss of remittances. These problems must be taken seriously and mitigated through their integration into the local communities.
Recommendations for U.S. Involvement:
Guiding Principles and Critical Recommendations
To maximize the effectiveness of U.S. intervention, the above recommendations must be consistent with the following guiding principles: 1) Afghanistans needs and preferences should drive the provision of international resources; 2) whenever possible, indigenous capacity should be reconstituted; 3) long-term sustainability must be fostered; 4) U.S. actions should reflect and emphasize U.S. interests; 5) U.S. involvement should avoid leaving a large "footprint"; and 6) because reconstruction and development is a long-term and uncertain process, Afghan and international expectations must be realistic. In addition to these guiding principles, four basic functional recommendations could help frame U.S. government involvement.