Friday, March 14, 2008

Rubin: Points on an Integrated Strategy for Afghanistan

Below is a think piece I did for a discussion a couple of months ago. I don't even entirely agree with it myself any more, but I still think it poses some questions that need to be thought through. I don't have time right now to publish this as an article, so I am just posting it here in the hopes it will spark additional thoughts. It would benefit from pictures, links, and clarification of some points -- but after all blogs are an open-source environment: so let the redrafting begin...

Desired end state: Afghanistan is stable and secure within the normal range for a poor country without the presence of large numbers of foreign troops. The Afghan government has access to all or nearly all of the territory and is able to finance its recurrent costs from domestic revenue. Question: Does Afghanistan aim to finance all recurrent security costs from domestic revenue, or will it rely permanently on subsidies of the armed forces, police, and intelligence apparatus? If the former, how will it either raise sufficient revenue to pay security costs or lower recurrent security costs so that domestic revenue can pay them? If the latter, how will Afghanistan obtain secure, predictable funding for its security forces? The nature and origin of this funding will have major political implications. What is the time frame for a transition to sustainability, whether through contractual subsidies or relative self-sufficiency?

Conditions for Security and Stability. Security and stability of the Afghan state depend on the relations of the state to: (1) its neighbors, other major powers, and transnational entities (al-Qaida, the drug industry, international financial institutions or corporations) concerning what role Afghanistan and its territory and resources will play in the international balance (or imbalance) of power; and (2) Afghan communities and other social strata such as Islamic clergy and educated professionals (“intellectuals”). The two are interdependent, as foreign states and transnational entities dissatisfied with the orientation of the Afghan state can offer resources directly to disaffected communities and strata, while both the state and social groups in Afghanistan can use access to international resources to strengthen their bargaining positions. This process of simultaneous bargaining on (at least) two levels constitutes the context within which to consider political, ideological, and ethnic struggles over control of the Afghan state and its various constituent parts. The current instability is due to a combination of international contestation of the current political dispensation and the failure to integrate key communities, which remain accessible to and at times integrated with the state’s opponents or competitors.

International Strategic Identity of Afghanistan. The current territory of Afghanistan was not demarcated by a strong state that consolidated control of the territory using resources it mobilized, but by neighboring empires that agreed to subsidize the state in order to stabilize their frontiers. Security and stability of this Afghan state has required a high degree of strategic consensus among neighbors and great powers, combined with a flow of foreign aid that subsidizes the state in such a way as to reinforce its legitimacy and capacity. This strategic consensus broke down in 1978-79. The events of 2001 appeared to reinstate it, with the formation of an international consensus around the implementation of the Bonn Agreement and the reconstruction effort launched at the Tokyo conference. In practice the Bonn Agreement, by bringing together the Northern Alliance and the supporters of the former King, His Majesty Zahir Shah, established a government supported by a coalition of the U.S. and its allies with Iran, Russia, and India, which had been the supporters of the Northern Alliance. Pakistan, al-Qaida, and the Taliban were the big losers but were under pressure at that time.

Since that time the following trends have frayed or destroyed that coalition and enabled Pakistan and its Taliban clients to make a comeback:

  • The U.S. shifted its focus to Iraq and then to Iran, significantly lessening pressure on Pakistan.
  • Pakistan became concerned that, in the absence of a threat from Taliban and al-Qaida, the U.S. would realign itself with India (a concern reinforced by the U.S.-India nuclear deal), possibly confronting Pakistan not only with India to the East but with an Afghanistan hosting a U.S.-India alliance to the West.
  • NATO took over command of ISAF, which has moved into being much more of a combat force than originally conceived, while the Coalition has maintained its “kinetic” mission, and troop levels have increased.
  • The U.S.-NATO military presence, which is looking more permanent, plus the U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership, have aroused suspicion in Russia, Iran, China, India, and Pakistan that the US is using the issue of terrorism in order to maintain bases on the Asian mainland (rather than the reverse), threatening Russian, Indian, and Chinese interests in Central Asia, the Persian Gulf, and South Asia (including access to oil and gas), surrounding Iran with the aim of “regime change,” and aiming at weakening Islamic Pakistan.

As a result the international military presence that the Afghan government and most Afghan people consider, even if reluctantly, as necessary for the stability of Afghanistan and its protection from regional competition, has provoked additional instability, as various neighbors retain and even reinforce their ties with political groups and militias in Afghanistan in order to pressure the U.S. and NATO and discourage a long-term presence.

Afghanistan faces the following strategic alternatives:

  1. Strengthen the strategic partnership with the U.S. and rely above all on that bilateral relationship, including a long-term U.S.-NATO troop presence, to deter interference by neighbors and assure that the U.S. will subsidize the Afghan security forces as a subsidiary of CENTCOM;
  2. Return to the historic policy of bi-tarafi, announcing that Afghanistan seeks strategic partnerships with all those helping it, including Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia, and India, and assure that Afghanistan is not the base for threats real or perceived to any of these. Therefore:
    • Begin discussions with each of these, regardless of objections from other powers; the award of the Ainak copper mine contract to China could be a step in this direction.
    • Plan to phase out the NATO and Coalition presence within an approximate time frame and replace it with a combination of Afghan security forces and international non-aligned forces, whether a U.N. peacekeeping operation or a multi-national force from Islamic or non-aligned states outside the region; this will depend on settlement of the insurgency and elimination of al-Qaida sanctuaries in Pakistan. A more modest alternative would be at least to end the full freedom of action currently accorded to the Coalition, so that all military operations would be subject to a bilateral agreement with a sovereign Afghan government.
    • Establish frameworks for the resolution of bilateral issues with all neighbors and other stakeholders; whereas alternative (1) might be consistent with resisting changes in the status quo on the Durand Line, though the U.S. and NATO have thus far resisted being dragged into this issue; alternative (2) would require a plan for reducing or ending the longstanding tensions with Pakistan over the border, mutual subversion, transit trade, India-Pakistan conflict (including the use of Afghan territory and population for fighting in Kashmir), the Tribal Agencies, and the presence of al-Qaida leadership. Any agreement on the border should also include the administrative integration of FATA within Pakistan so as to eliminate military-controlled terrorist sanctuaries. Alternative (2) would also require either a settlement of U.S.-Iran conflicts or an agreement on a modus operandi to insulate Afghanistan from those conflicts.

Insurgency, Terrorism, and Internal Security. Domestic stability and security requires a settlement/defeat of the insurgency, the integration of dissident tribes, clans, and social strata in the south and east in such a manner as not to provoke a destabilizing reaction from groups in other regions of the country and their foreign allies. These in turn require elimination or curbing of external sanctuary for Taliban, al-Qaida, and Hizb-i Islami, as well as agreement by anti-Taliban regional powers to accept the terms of a settlement of the insurgency rather than responding with resistance or subversion. Political settlement of the insurgency must be done in such a way as to make clear that it is part of a strategy for stabilization, not realignment. International alternative 1 (alignment with the U.S.) is likely to make any steps toward political settlement of the insurgency appear as a realignment in the interests of the U.S. and Pakistan, and will therefore provoke a reaction. International alternative 2 (regional and global non-alignment) will facilitate confidence building measures, though it might lower the military capacity of the forces in the country.

Internal political settlement of the insurgency (contingent on settlement of its external factors) will require some political integration of former insurgent elements. The current structure and functioning of political institutions in Afghanistan constitutes an obstacle to such a settlement. Not only is the administration unitary and highly centralized around the Office of the President, but the National Assembly and Judiciary’s powers appear in practice to be subordinate to the executive. There are virtually no mechanisms for institutionalized power sharing according to the constitution and law. The unitary, centralized administration means that there is no mechanism for territorial power sharing. The presidential system means there is no mechanism for power sharing in the central government through coalition formation. The weakness of the National Assembly and provincial councils and the lack of a structural role for political parties means that political participation through forming parties to contest legislative elections. In practice individuals formerly aligned with insurgent groups (political or tribal) can be appointed to posts n the unitary, centralized administration, but their only official role is then to implement the policies of the central government. Patronage and the exercise of local power take place through informal means, i.e. corruption. To settle the insurgency sustainably, negotiations must lead to the strengthening of inclusive institutions, not just the cooptation of individuals by enabling them to benefit from “corruption.”

In the first instance this requires strengthening the institutional role of the National Assembly. As the NA has proposed a number of the measures mentioned above (subordinating the Coalition to a bilateral agreement under Afghan sovereignty, a negotiated settlement with the Taliban), some Taliban sources claim that enabling the NA to fully carry out its constitutionally mandated role would provide greater opportunities for political integration.

The role of provincial, district, and local administration and elected bodies is even more important. The immediate impetus to insurgency in the south often came from the abuse of office to create and maintain tribally-based patronage networks. While tribes or clans could be abused or dispossessed, partly because the Coalition empowered certain tribal militias, which took power at the expense of others, but also because in such a centralized system there is no accountability of the government to the governed, but only to the higher levels of government. Especially in an atmosphere of scarcity, insecurity, and lack of rule of law, the competition for power becomes a competition to grab resources, and those who lose turn for support to the state’s opponents.

The many local and tribal disputes resulting from misgovernment over the past several years will have to be settled; even more important for the medium and long term is the reconstruction of contractual, consensual, and accountable relations between communities on the one hand and the administration on the other. This is the task of the newly established Independent Department of Local Governance in the Office of the President. The constitution provides an institutional framework for this task through the mandate of elected councils at all levels, but much work is needed to make these institutions function.

Domestic Security. The failure of the government to provide and protect domestic security and justice is a major reason its legitimacy has declined. The capture of the police and judiciary by factional and indeed criminal interests has made Afghan people see domestic security institutions as threats rather than protectors. Reform and restructuring of the security and justice institutions must be integrated into the reconstruction of governance. The domination of Afghanistan’s economy by illicit activities (mainly the drug trade) has been a driver of the corruption of these institutions. Transforming the criminalized economy (see below) is one major strategic piece. The government now must decide whether it is still possible to reform the police and the MoI within the current institutional structure, which provides for a totally centralized structure with no local accountability, or whether to empower communities to take responsibility for their own security. Security on roads, at borders, at markets, and in towns and cities will remain a governmental responsibility. Can the MoI be reformed, or will it have to be demobilized and a new one created, along the model used for the AMF and the ANA?

Political Elites. A central political question for establishment of domestic security and governance is how the government should relate to the de facto power holders – “warlords,” commanders, militia leaders, factional or ethnic leaders, strongmen – that have emerged over the past several decades. In some cases they overlap with more longstanding social elites (landlords, religious figures, big families), but in other cases they are “new” men who emerged in the war. Among the alternatives are:

  1. Coopt and transform these leaders by appointing them to official functions; this requires establishment of a set of criteria to determine their eligibility, such as DIAG, accounting for past crimes, cutting ties with the drug trade, and mechanisms for monitoring. The guidelines do not appear to be clear and are affected by political and economic interests. This would be facilitated by programs such as do not now exist for helping them establish legitimate businesses or professions consistent with their status, providing they integrate themselves into new institutions.
  2. Remove these leaders and either “hold them accountable” for their past actions or just sideline them, as the government and its partners build new institutions or revitalize pre-existing ones.
  3. Use essentially political criteria for dealing with them: do they ally with the government and international forces in the counter-terrorism operation?

Elements of these policies are already in existence, in electoral vetting, DIAG, the senior appointments board, the civil service commission, and the action plan on transitional justice, but each policy area establishes them ad hoc through bargaining between the government and various donors. The various elements of the policy are not integrated into a common approach.

The government also needs to develop a strategic approach to the ulama and spiritual leaders. Policies on judicial reform and education are particularly important to this. For instance, in development of the judiciary does the government want to build a parallel secular judicial elite or transform and upgrade the qaziat? What tools does the government have to influence the religious authorities?

Economic Development. The economic development strategy includes investment in infrastructure for production and connectivity to domestic and international markets (roads, pipelines, electricity, water); investment in human capital (education, health); social protection; transformation of the criminalized economy; and regional and global integration. The basic strategic choices made about Afghanistan’s international strategic identity will affect decisions on which infrastructure to make a priority. The decision on the size and mode of financing of security services (and the rest of the public sector) will determine what rates of growth and extraction of public resources are need to finance the desired end state. Sectoral decisions on how to achieve the desired growth and human development will have to be consistent with the overall strategy. The transformation of the illicit (especially narcotics) economy while increasing the standard of living requires the integration of counter-narcotics into the governance, security, and development strategies.

Counter-Narcotics. Counter narcotics tools, including crop eradication (negotiated or forced), alternative livelihoods and other development programs, interdiction, law enforcement, anti-corruption measures, border security, anti-money laundering programs, and any other should not be considered as parts of a counter-narcotics strategy developed in parallel to strategies for other policy areas. Counter-narcotics tools should be considered as various forms of sanctions and incentives in the political negotiation over the future of the Afghan state and economy among government, its international backers, strongmen, communities, and various transnational forces including the drug industry.

With respect to the narcotics industry, it is vital to bear in mind that poppy production is not considered a criminal activity by the current social consensus in Afghanistan, whatever written laws (that no one reads) may say. Communities decide to devote a portion of their resources to poppy cultivation, even though they know it is un-Islamic and illegal, because they believe they need it for their own security and welfare. Poppy cultivation provides cash incomes, credit, finance, access to land, and employment. It is not considered deviant or anti-social behavior but a regrettable adaptation to insecurity and poverty. An attempt by the state to use threats or force to stop cultivation is not seen as legitimate action against criminals (deviants), but as an attack on a hard-pressed community that would not have made such a choice if alternatives were available.

One goal of counter-narcotics policy is to gradually transform participation in the narcotics industry into a crime, so that it can be handled through law enforcement. But this first requires a political process of legitimating the power of the state, including its adherence to the international counter-narcotics regime, through a political process. Technical assistance and capacity building can strengthen legitimate institutions, but they cannot make institutions legitimate.

Afghan experience shows that is possible to curb poppy production through political agreements between the state and communities, but that such agreements are sustainable only if the state and its supporter s offer adequate benefits to convince communities that it is safe to shift from the illicit activities they wish to leave. Communities need other livelihoods, such as jobs, not just other crops. They do not need the same level of gross cash income from licit economic activities as from illicit ones in order to be secure.

As currently planned, communities will agree to phase out poppy production over a period of years, as part of its overall contribution to security and development. The government similarly agrees to provide a range of public services over the same period. This policy is not a simple exchange of aid for ending poppy production, which international experience has shown is ineffective and vulnerable to defection from both sides. These agreements would define a comprehensive political, security, and development agreement between the state and communities – a local version of the Afghanistan Compact. Just as counter-narcotics policy is an integrated and cross-cutting theme of the Compact, so it will be a cross-cutting theme of these local compacts.

Taking the idea of a gradual transition seriously involves several components, including establishing the status of the crop during the agreed transition, investment in infrastructure (physical and institutional for development), and interim measures such as price supports or subsidies to provide economic support to communities undergoing the transition.

Investments would be required to create and strengthen licit institutions that would provide the public goods previously provided by the drug industry, including credit, extension services, marketing, and employment in industries of transformation. Some of these programs could be implemented through the National Solidarity Program.

But the benefit of those investments would not be felt in full for years. Until then other programs are needed to provide rural communities with support and incentives to pursue other livelihoods. These could include a program of price support for key commodities throughout the country (not only in poppy growing areas) and subsidies, if it is possible to administer them in existing conditions.

Finally, alternative livelihoods are not just or even mainly crops. In order to create more jobs, the countries that constitute the main market for illicit drugs manufactured from Afghan raw materials should enact legislation providing for preferential treatment for other Afghan exports, such as textiles. Such tariff treatment would encourage investors from Asian countries to move some operations into Afghanistan in order to capture those market segments.

At some point in the process of implementing these political agreements with communities, the social consensus would shift to seeing poppy cultivation as anti-social deviant behavior. At that point it would be appropriate to introduce crop eradication for those who continue to grow poppy despite collective agreements not to do so.

Implementation. No strategy can be formulated or implemented within the current institutional structures. There is increasing call for a higher level of coordination, but effective implementation of that coordination would require delegation of budgetary authority over expenditures to a collective body presided over by the coordinator, along the model of the ARTF. The pursuit of bilateral and parallel institutions by donors prevents the empowerment of Afghan institutions and implementation of a coordinated strategy. That does not mean that all projects must be implemented by the Afghan government. The Afghan government does not currently have the capacity to develop and implement all the projects that are needed. The most important element of coordination is not mechanism of implementation, but mechanism of decision making. The JCMB and the consultative groups now have purely consultative functions and no budgetary functions. The Compact and ANDS institutional structure, however, could be adapted to make it much more an executive rather than solely a monitoring body for the implementation of the Compact. This would be consistent with the needs of a integrated strategy.

The current security and development structures should also be rethought. PRTs were a response to the inability to expand ISAF. An expanded ISAF should focus on security, while an expanded UNAMA should focus on the provincial and regional coordination of political, governance, and development strategy. The UN, unlike NATO, is a multifunctional organization that includes agencies with all the relevant expertise.


Anonymous said...

logysnhI understand and agree with every word, but I just do not quite care for being right. I want us to leave Afghanistan and offer peaceful assistance. Enough destruction. We have assisting in the destruction long enough, too long, much too long.

Anonymous said...

I have though from the beginning that we must leave Iraq, and I never wante war before that. I think we need to leave Iraq first, then Afghanistan. All you ideas help me undertand the problems involved, but I want our soldiers gone.

Sorry, the sign-in went wrong.

Don Bacon said...

In the short term there are more pressing problems.

from news sources:
A crippling food shortage in Afghanistan exacerbated by a harsh winter and an astronomical rise in the price of wheat has led the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) to begin distributing emergency food aid.

The UN food agency has begun providing emergency wheat deliveries to millions of Afghans in an attempt to prevent a humanitarian crisis. It plans to distribute aid packages this week containing wheat, beans, and cooking oil to some 650,000 people in and around Kabul, with aid shipments to remote areas to follow.[in and around Kabul!]

“We say that among these 6 million that we have estimated, 3.5 million are regularly in need of our food, and almost 3 million people are seasonally in need of our food,” WFP spokesman Ebadullah Ebad tells RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan. “We are concerned about those people who are living in remote areas. We are concerned about the shortage of food and getting food to them in that rugged terrain. If we don’t get that food there on time to those people in remote areas, we think that there will be a [humanitarian] crisis.”

Food shortages in Ajristan District of Ghazni Province, central Afghanistan, have forced some families to eat dried grass in order to survive, local people and the district administrator told IRIN.“Many families in Ajristan are eating different kinds of dried grass and vegetables like alfalfa, which are normally given to cattle, due to food shortages and extreme poverty,” said Raz Mohammad Hemat, the district administrator.

In the northeastern province of Badakhshan hundreds of families have reportedly been displaced due to food-insecurity in several areas, provincial officials reported. Preliminary assessments conducted by the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) indicated that up to 1,000 families had left their homes in Argo and Kishm districts, some of whom had moved to neighbouring Takhaar and Kunduz provinces in search of food.

Anonymous said...

I am curious about what disagreements you might now have with this fine piece of hard work.

From my amateur point of view, your emphasis on local involvement in political and economic development seems like a good step. Despite a preference for local control, you talk about how the constitution gives the President a predominant responsibility and control.

I can’t remember any case where a politician ever just donated some of their power to others. Naturally, the President will want to retain his power and operate his patronage system that trickles down to local levels. However, over the long run that method will cause the government to implode because of two reasons. First, the broader base will have no place to go except to the Taliban if they want to increase their political will and economic security. This is already happening with the poppy production and with anger against the selfish and sometimes cruel warlords. Secondly, increased foreign aid will add fuel to the fire of factional competition for a limited source of goods. Often, insurgents do not win their wars, but the central government implodes.

So, the President and his patronage factions need to see the prospect that they will join the throngs of refugees if they do not try very hard to broaden political involvement at the local levels.

Developing a broader base presents several challenges. First, Afghanistan has more than 80 political parties. Clans and families will compete with each other. The patronage factions will compete with each other and all of the other divisive elements. Consolidating political power in peasant cultures is especially difficult because of the perception (the reality) that life is constantly on the edge and any one family can face a critical shortage of life's necessities at any time. If any one faction or family gains more than others, then they are perceived to take directly away from everyone else. Life is an impending life and death struggle with your neighbors.

They see the corrupt presidential patronage factions as simply gaining at the life and death expense of everyone else. Consequently, they will look for any opportunity to neutralize the strength of that central government. Actually, they are dependent, but they hate them.

So, how about this? What if the UN or some other qualified organization performs a mediating function between the factions, warlords, political parties and a broader base of participation?

What if they taught everyone how to identify their goals and make strategies to achieve those goals?

Most often, everyone will soon see that they have interdependent and overlapping goals. Most often, the best strategies will involve quite a bit of collaborative efforts. This is not new in Afghanistan. The central government patronage factions and warlords, clans and the Taliban already collaborate to grow and market poppy products. That’s quite a pilot project!

There are other examples in other places in the world where a central authority successfully mediates desperate peasant style cultures.

The kicker could be that the expelled UN diplomat says that about two-thirds of the Taliban would be open to a non-violent resolution to this conflict. If that is the case, an effective mediation effort may simply end this thing.

Bob Spencer

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