Letter to the London Times newspaper, published Aug. 20, 2009
The success of the Nato-led intervention in Afghanistan hangs in the balance in the elections that begin today. Without a new government committed to restoring the State’s sovereignty and working with the international community to stabilise the country, the insurgency will spiral further out of control. Afghanistan needs a new leader who has a clear strategy to achieve our mutual goal of sending foreign troops home.
In the past three years the insurgency has grown in strength and number. The Taleban have reversed their losses in southern and eastern strongholds and gained ground in once stable parts of the North and West. Al-Qaeda still remains active on our border. The number of troops on the ground has increased, and yet this past July was the deadliest month for foreign forces since the conflict began eight years ago.
In the run-up to today’s election the insurgents once again stepped up their attacks. Deadly suicide bombs outside Nato headquarters and around Kabul this week have underlined their determination. They are targeting candidates and voters alike, intent on killing soldiers, police and innocent civilians. Fear has gripped the country as Afghans anxiously anticipate a violent post-election outcome.
The corruption of the Karzai regime has enabled this deterioration of security by tolerating lawlessness, cutting deals with warlords and turning a blind eye to the drug trafficking that is funding attacks and perpetuating injustice. Mr Karzai’s recent pardon of five drug dealers and a known rapist are just the latest in a series of unconscionable acts he has committed as president. This week he even welcomed General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a known killer, back to Afghanistan to endorse his re-election bid. Not only does Mr Karzai lack a coherent strategy to stabilise the state, but also he lacks the will and legitimacy among the people to do so.
Initially, the Afghan population welcomed the Nato forces, but the Bush doctrine of counterterrorism resulted in arbitrary arrests, detentions and accidental civilian deaths that turned the people against the troops. The efforts of the international community have been undermined by incompetent Afghan leadership. The prime example is the National Police, which after $10 billion in international assistance remains unprepared and rife with corruption. The Obama Administration is ready to change this doctrine but it needs a capable and reliable partner.
I have a strategy for restoring sovereignty that can bring peace to Afghanistan in the next three to seven years. Only one fifth of my plan involves a military effort, the rest consists of government reform and economic growth. For this to happen it will be essential for the Afghan Government and the international community to agree to a process with clear benchmarks that measures meaningful process toward withdrawal, such as a mutual commitment to shut foreign detention centres such as Bagram within three years.
Once the joint commitment is established then a coherent peace- building process can begin. The first priority will be to negotiate an initial ceasefire. Only then can a process of reconciliation with the Taleban begin. We need to talk with the Taleban and understand why they joined the insurgency to help to address the root causes. In my experience, injustice and bad governance have been the primary drivers.
The next step will be to reorganise Afghan security forces. As commander-in-chief, the president must lead the security effort — something that Mr Karzai has failed to do. Operations should be restructured around three key priorities: securing cities, highways and large projects. In their endeavours, the security forces need to take a neighbourhood-level approach, reaching out to local elites to ensure cooperation. Rooting out corruption will be critical to this. I want to create a network of 20,000 citizen monitors who will report on the abuse of power by local officials and police. These monitors should be connected in a telephone chain that leads them directly to the president’s office from local, district and provincial levels. Such a “neighbourhood watch” scheme would restore trust in the armed forces.
The final step to achieving security will be to create jobs. Afghanistan suffers from almost 53 per cent unemployment, and 71 per cent of our population is under the age of 30. I have laid out a detailed plan to create one million new jobs in construction, mining and agriculture. These jobs will help to give Afghans a stake in society — so that they won’t want to attack it. My economic agenda includes privatisation, foreign investment and the opening of international markets to Afghan goods. Whether it is a rural women’s co-operative exporting dried fruit, the beef sold by a nomadic herdsman or even our deep deposits of copper or gems, Afghanistan is rich in exportable resources. Ultimately it will be impossible to achieve stability until people see improvements in their daily lives. Jobs and growth are the way to make that happen.
Military gains will never be enough. Nowhere is this better illustrated than Helmand. Despite repeated Nato victories, it is still not safe. Strong civic institutions, such as courts, local councils and an uncorrupt police force are needed to enforce a just and lawful order.
After almost eight years of Hamid Karzai, violence, drug trafficking and rampant corruption are continuing to erode our national sovereignty. The elections offer both Afghanistan and the international community a rare second chance to get it right: to root out the insurgency, pursue reconciliation and enforce the good governance that is needed to secure the peace and make it last. The future stability of our nation, our region and the world depend on the outcome.
Ashraf Ghani is a former Finance Minister, and a presidential candidate in Afghanistan