National Security Network

Violence and Transition in Afghanistan

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Report 19 July 2011

Afghanistan Afghanistan Afghanistan Strategy Karzai Political Reconciliation

For the last week, targeted violence aimed at derailing the transition to Afghan control has plagued Afghanistan. In the wake of the death of Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the provincial council in Kandahar province and brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as well as another high-level assassination, the U.S. and the broader International Security Assistance Force should focus on the need to improve governance so that it relies on institutions, not individuals. Such a shift can assist the transition that began this week, symbolized by the promotion of Marine General John Allen to the commander of forces in Afghanistan and initial transfers of provincial control to Afghans. If the Afghan government is going to keep control of the country, the focus should shift to finding a political solution, both among the parties in Afghanistan - including the Taliban - and regionally. As NSN Senior Adviser Maj. Gen. (ret.) Paul Eaton notes, "Rebalancing American and ISAF efforts from an almost-exclusively military focus to a more balanced approach that values diplomacy and political solutions is long overdue."

In the wake of assassinations, emphasis should be on the need to improve governance. Joshua Foust of the American Security Project explains, "For the last five years, the International Community, rather than trying to put into place the fundamentals for a government based on the rule of law (actual laws that literate people can read, a functioning police force that isn't just a lightly armed backup for the Army, bureaucrats, services, taxation, land registries, functioning courts, and so on), they chose instead to rely on Ahmed Wali to get things done on their artificially short, politically expedient time frames. And for a while, it worked." Michael O'Hanlon, Brookings Institution senior fellow and a proponent of the counterinsurgency strategy, admits "Kandahar under Ahmed Wali Karzai was hardly on a path toward good governance or political inclusiveness." But as Foust explains, "The problem with the reliance on Ahmed Wali, however, is that it is deeply against any normal traditions of government. Even the ‘bottom-up' governance projects the military has undertaken rely, even if vaguely, on pantomimes to institutions, laws, and process."

Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Brian Katulis adds, "The powerbrokers in today's Afghanistan include a number of political and economic leaders who have close links to criminal and drug trafficking networks that in turn are linked to transnational criminal networks. A significant share of the assistance provided by U.S. taxpayers to Afghanistan is siphoned off and wasted by these power brokers, and this creates perverse incentives that impact the political economy of Afghanistan and shape security dynamics." [Joshua Foust, 7/14. Michael O'Hanlon, 7/14/11. Brian Katulis, 7/12/11]

Transition and governance reform should put Afghans in control. As the Los Angeles Times reports, "A new U.S. commander, Gen. John Allen, formally took control of the war in Afghanistan on Monday, inheriting a nearly decade-long conflict that has cost the lives of at least 1,667 American troops... Allen also takes command at a time when NATO allies are seeking to scale back their presence. Afghan troops are taking security control this month of seven cities or areas, a process that began this week with the formal transfer of responsibility in Bamiyan, one of Afghanistan's safest provinces." America and our ISAF partners have begun to transfer control in a measured way that will push Afghans to take responsibility for their own country-but Afghans will have to step up, writes former National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones: "It is unfortunate, and very hurtful to our bilateral relations, to observe the continuing lack of progress in developing an Afghan national ‘rule of law' and any semblance of a commitment to fight corruption, a national illness left conspicuously unaddressed by Karzai, despite repeated international entreaties over many years. When such failings are pointed out, we are treated to outbursts against ‘the occupiers' by no less than Karzai, a man who owes much of his good fortune to the international community."

The point Gen. Jones makes underscores the need to reform not just the personalities but the system more broadly, so that it reflects Afghan political realities. As ASP's Foust noted last year, "Complaints about Karzai are focused too much on the man and not enough on the presidency. Good man or no, having an office as poorly situated as the Afghan presidency makes any officeholder destined for failure. Were another president to step into the post, he would be faced by the same pressures - forced to manage the same perilous balancing acts. So maybe it's less a question about Karzai than about U.S. expectations. If those can't be met, Washington has a much bigger problem on its hands." [LA Times, 7/18/11. James Jones, 7/11/11. Joshua Foust, 9/28/10]

Time to focus on political solutions, local and regional; no quick fixes. CAP's Brian Katulis explains, "As Afghanistan moves forward in a period of transition, the Obama administration needs to be clear about what power sharing and reconciliation in the context of Afghanistan means. For years, a range of Afghan leaders have used resources from the United States and other countries to build their power bases and patronage networks. Some of these networks overlap with the very groups we say we want to defeat. Teasing all of this out as the United States starts its inevitable and necessary drawdown of military forces will be a key task-and right now there is no clear roadmap to a political resolution to Afghanistan's conflict over power."

Those solutions will need to address regional concerns, as well as talks with the Taliban. As NSN Senior Adviser Maj. Gen. (ret.) Paul Eaton explains, "Soldiers love to see diplomats hard at work. Finding a regional arrangement that addresses the underlying drivers of conflict in Afghanistan is essential. I applaud Ambassador Marc Grossman's work, both in Afghanistan and with neighboring nations. Rebalancing American and ISAF efforts from an almost-exclusively military focus to a more balanced approach that values diplomacy and political solutions is long overdue." [Brian Katulis, 7/12/11. Paul Eaton, 7/19/11]

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Taliban insurgents have released a video showing them killing 16 Pakistani men who were captured in a raid last month in a restive northwestern province.

Somali-American Omer Abdi Mohamed pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to conspiring to provide material support to Somali militants in their attacks against Ethiopian and Somali government troops in late 2007.

South Sudan has made its first shipment of oil as an independent country, despite failing to agree on how to divide critical spoils with its erstwhile partner to the north.

News Corporation chiefs Rupert and James Murdoch and former executive Rebekah Brooks are being quizzed before the British Parliament about the phone-hacking scandal.

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Commentary of the Day

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