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David Miliband: Afghanistan Could 'Explode' Without Political Solutions

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David Miliband

WASHINGTON -- With early troop removals by key contributors to the war in Afghanistan, military factors have dominated war news over the past few weeks.

But three days before NATO leaders meet in Chicago to discuss Afghanistan strategy, British Member of Parliament David Miliband said political factors are being overlooked by Western nations, potentially harming progress toward a successful conclusion to the war.

Speaking about the "dangers of a continuing imbalance between the political and the military efforts," Miliband, a Labor Party member, told reporters on Thursday that without concentrated effort to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan, NATO runs the risk that "the obvious tensions that exist within Afghan society explode on the back of allied withdrawal. ... Without it, the risks for Afghanistan, for the wider region and for the legacy of our intervention are very serious indeed."

Miliband's comments accompanied the release of a report from the Center for American Progress in which the liberal think tank argued for greater focus by NATO on political solutions in Afghanistan.

"Missing from the NATO conference’s agenda and U.S. government planning efforts is a meaningful discussion of the
political dimensions of the transition -- how NATO’s security transition and international troop drawdown will affect the tenuous power balance that has existed in the country since 2001," wrote Caroline Wadhams, Colin Cookman, and Brian Katulis, the report's authors.

NATO neglect, however, may be only part of the problem. Both the report and Miliband said that the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not only corrupt, but highly centralized -- a new and difficult system in a country that is highly fractured along geographic and ethnic lines. Many of the report's suggestions centered on governance and elections, arguing that the U.S. and NATO must help improve the integrity of voting, create checks on the power of the presidency and reach out to opposition parties to bolster political stability for Karzai's successor, who will be elected in 2014.

To give teeth to political efforts, the report proposed linking security aid to political progress in Afghanistan. "The United States and other international donors must convey the clear reform baselines for their continued support of the Afghan government," the authors wrote.

"A transition to Afghan ownership and the drawdown of foreign forces is the right approach for the long-term interests of Afghanistan, the region, and the United States and its NATO partners. But much more work needs to be done to prioritize and carry out the steps necessary for a durable resolution to the political issues at the core of the conflict," warned the report.


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