By Luis Miguel
Although we do not know the specifics concerning the US strategy for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is certain that the American and international presence in the Islamic Republic will be significantly reduced by the close of 2013. President Obama favors a plan that would leave 6,000 troops deployed to focus on counterterrorism operations, with limited training for Afghan forces.
The Pentagon prefers a 9,000-troop plan, which would expand the training and logistical support that US servicemen would provide to the Afghan National Army and National Police. While these numbers may be anathema to many American who hope for complete withdrawal, they still represent significant reduction from the 68,000 American troops currently stationed in Afghanistan. Moreover, it would not be just to completely deprive the Afghans of foreign support during a vital transitional period.
Were the situation as bleak as the media depictions commonly lead us to believe, we would be perfectly justified in retiring and leaving the Afghans to their own devices. I do not mean to minimize the tragedy of the thousands of men and women—American and Afghan, military and civilian—who have perished as a result of this 11-year conflict. We must not ignore the reconstruction’s evident faults and their very piercing toll on human life. But we must also not ignore the truth that the people of Afghanistan have the very real, if insecure, chance of cementing an equitable civil society on their soil.
The common western misconception of Afghanistan consists of a homogenous nation of Muslim extremists completely opposed to the equality, freedom, and republicanism we so highly prize. But in so viewing the Afghanis, we caricaturize them according to the unrepresentative tenets of unpopular fanatical movements and neglect their personal struggle to advance a religiously informed liberal society.
If Mullah Omar’s Islamic fundamentalism and Osama bin Laden’s militant jihadism are typical of the Afghan character, so are Amanullah Khan’s equal rights reform, Zahir Shah’s modernist constitutionalism, and Ahmad Shah Massoud’s opposition to Communist authoritarianism. Operation Enduring Freedom has placed a new generation of Afghani leadership—headed by Hamid Karzai and his administration—in the chambers of power. While neither infallible nor innocent, the Karzai administration and the current National Assembly represent the best chance for peace and good government conceivable given the situation.
The present political structure achieves a functioning balance of power by providing the country’s disparate factions with representation and obliging them to engage in discourse. The Afghan Constitution even goes so far as to require a certain amount of seats for women in both houses of the legislature as a way to institutionalize the legitimacy of women’s rights and safeguard them from both government abuse and popular whim.
But if the current republic is to continue beyond the US Troop withdrawal and the 2014 Afghani elections, the Afghan leadership and the international community must take measures to ensure the new government’s legitimacy and stability. To firmly establish its credibility and legitimacy, the Afghan government must reduce corruption. Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Afghanistan as the third most corrupt nation in the world. Incidents like the Kabul Bank scandal or widespread illegal land-grabbing agitate the people’s mind against the infant government.
The Karzai administration can indict culpable officials and organize anticorruption panels ad infinitum, but the abuses will not desist without institutional reform that effectively renders officials more accountable while eliminating the opportunity for encroachment. The government may, for instance, decrease the number of signatures necessary for business organization and the situations under which civil servants negotiate fees. Doing so would produce greater oversight and reduce the possibility of extortion.
But the new government must gain legitimacy in another way. As leaders press political reform and human rights, they must frame the national dialogue within the familiar context of Islamic law. While most Afghans revile the excesses of the Taliban, they also loathed the systematic secularization and state atheism of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. State officials need to be aware of the people’s religious sensitivities, representing their cause as the fulfillment of the just Islamic society, not its antithesis. To fail in this respect would impel the mujahideen on the fringe to the insurrectionist camp.
Even so, the new leadership must remain firm against terrorist factions. Karzai’s efforts to reconcile with the Taliban, while well meaning, are futile and would produce undesirable consequences. Mohammed Omar and his disciples will not cooperate with the official government because their only aim is to undo all the progress in republicanism and human rights thus far advanced. Terrorists have to be taken out of the picture, but Afghanistan cannot do so by merely working within its own borders.
The militant Islamic extremists who murder troops and civilians and fan jihadism hail from or are abetted by other countries, especially Pakistan. It was Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency that largely founded, supplied and manned the Taliban (going so far as to contribute 100,000 Pakistani nationals to aid the Taliban in its war against United Front) as a way to establish a Pakistan-friendly regime in Afghanistan. Today, Pakistan continues to harbor the Taliban and terrorist organizations like the Haqqani network. The international community must organize regional coercion to inhibit Pakistani intervention.
Though hate and violence have loomed incessantly over the country for the last century, the blessings of freedom and the hope of peace have not expired for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.