Wednesday, October 8, 2008

THE CHOICES IN AFGHANISTAN

J. R. Kerr-Ritchie, Howard University Historians Against the War - It would be premature to characterize Afghanistan as a failed state, but the inherent weakness of the Kabul government is undeniable. The regime is rife with cronyism and corruption, while the state has only been able to effect limited improvements in outlying areas. . .

The nature of economic development is also a problem. The UN estimates that poppy cultivation increased 17% in 2007. It is also estimated that 30% of the country's GDP is based upon drug activities, with over 90% of the world's heroin coming from Afghanistan. Cannabis cultivation is also on the rise. Much of the increase was reported from strongholds of the Taliban, as well as new areas in the southwestern provinces. Many poor farmers are surviving in this economy; which also pays for the insurgency. So far, attempts to eradicate the opium trade have largely failed. There has also been a lack of viable alternatives for poor farmers thus exacerbating the problem. Most important, the drug and black market economy are funding the insurgency. Finally, the economy is showing contradictory tendencies. The economy reportedly grew in 2007 by 13%; but the inflation rate was 20%, with youth unemployment at 40%. This high rate of joblessness no doubt feeds into illegal economic activities and the counter-insurgency, much like youth joblessness fuels crime in urban areas globally.

There are only two solutions. First, all NATO forces and US anti-terrorist forces should immediately withdraw from Afghanistan. The consequence will probably be regional civil war, but this is inevitable after three decades of proxy wars. There is simply no acceptable reason for a Cold-War organization like NATO to be spear-heading regional military intervention. Second, there should be a series of UN supervised regional comprehensive political meetings that include all political players. These must include the Taliban as well as the various factions in Pakistan. The alternative is balkanization, a policy that would exacerbate the transnational existence of Pashtuns living in both Afghanistan and Pakistan in ways similar to Kurdish people straddling the line between northern Iraq and southern Turkey. In other words, seek a political not a military solution.

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