To say Afghanistan has been victimized by the tides of history and a disadvantageous geographical location would be understating the amount of suffering derived from the misfortune of the ages. Because Afghanistan has managed to exist both at the wrong time as well as at the wrong place, which has forced the Afghan people to endure over 30 years of ceaseless war.
During the 1980s Afghanistan never volunteered to play Cold War chessboard for the world's two biggest superpowers, which resulted in the death of over 1 million Afghans, the destruction of its sacred tribal structure and the outbreak of continuous civil war. Neither did they aspire to become the battleground between Western nations and Islamic fascists that had, ironically, been created and nurtured by the same liberal democracies that now oppose these zealots.
I was inclined to accept that the past and the nation's environs had damned Afghanistan to suffer the reign of the perfidious President Hamid Karzai and his incompetent and endemically corrupt regime. However, the Afghan business, political and cultural leaders I had the pleasure of meeting last week at a symposium in Washington, D.C., entitled "Peace through Prosperity", would have none of it. The prevailing thought of the gathered was succinctly captured by Qasim Tarin, Chairman of the Afghan Business Network, when he threw out a quote by French philosopher Joseph-Marie, Comte de Maistre:
"Every country has the government it deserves."
And that was the theme of the symposium -- the Afghan people need to now stand on their own two feet with the help of the Afghan Diaspora. It was time to create solutions by Afghans for Afghans -- a battle cry I heard several times throughout the day.
One of the sponsors of the event, the New World Strategies Coalition (NWSC) -- a think tank founded by Afghan expatriates -- has secured an impressive roster of senior political and military leaders to support the cause, including three key U.S. Congressman: Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Ed Royce (R-CA) and Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who all spoke at the event.
This was an assemblage of private contractors and NGOs that presented their ideas for bettering Afghanistan's future, including representatives from groups such as the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce, International Foundation of Hope, Afghan Trusted Network, Muslims for Peace and the National Defense University.
We heard from small businessmen; agricultural, irrigation and hydrological experts; and a professor from Columbia University, Dr. Bashir A Zikria who is also the Chairman of the Council of Afghans for Peace (CAFP).
What many Americans do not understand is that the U.S. and NATO cannot effectively implement many of these solutions as outsiders, and the U.S. government does not realize a top-down, centralized approach will not work.
Afghanistan is a mosaic of ethnicities, languages and traditions, where loyalty to a tribe, clan or sub-clan trumps loyalty to a national leader. Attempts by foreign powers to impose their culture upon Afghans have failed. Historically it has caused the tribes to unite against external threats, and it matters little if there was noble intent: invasion or perceived invasion begets resistance -- a reality that U.S.-led forces are experiencing today.
Thus, the Afghan Diaspora wants to share its knowledge and talent with their native bloodline connections to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan through prosperity and government transparency.
Of course the group did address many of the socioeconomic problems and governance issues Afghanistan faces today. 80% of its GDP comes from foreign aid. The amount of bribe money has been estimated to cost at least $2.5 billion each year. The unemployment rate ranges anywhere between 35% and goes up to 50% in some districts.
Since 2001, the U.S. government has spent $51 billion to rebuild Afghanistan but approximately $27 billion of that has consisted of security outlays. Lack of education, lack of modern equipment and processes, and civilian causalities will certainly hinder future projects. But these men and women seemed to accept the fact that this is the operating environment they must work within.
Khalil Nouri and Terry Green, co-founders of the NWSC, said their group plans to build on sacred existing mechanisms in Afghanistan such as the "jirgah" -- an assembly of tribal elders who gather to make critical decisions that impact each region. Mr. Nouri, who says it's time for an "economic awakening" preaches a bottom-up solution and wants tribal representatives from the U.S. working with counterparts within the tribes of the same clan in Afghanistan.
They call this structure "Biz Jirgah to Biz Jirgah". They want to develop an "Afghan Investment Fund Management Group" that will raise funds and create sustainable projects. They will then manage, control, dispense and monitor those funds to produce businesses and jobs in Afghanistan (as opposed to the central government and the hyenas in Kabul).
Just a few examples of the economic, political and cultural initiatives that are being proposed include acquiring and operating a first-world grade concrete factory to control reconstruction costs and build modern housing for Afghan refugees living in Iran and Pakistan.
Kabul's sanitation infrastructure was built decades ago for a maximum population of five hundred thousand. Today there are over five million inhabitants inside Kabul; sanitation inadequacies are a nightmare. NWSC's biomass to energy solution consists of bringing mobile toilets to every corner of Afghanistan where the need exists. Human and animal waste is collected through this system to provide methane gas for cooking, heating, hot water (with tankless water heaters) and small generator electricity.
Rubber dams can address the water crisis by creating hydroelectric energy to power villages and cold storage facilities for produce and meats. With water flowing to the lowlands in large volumes, farming can be increased on a major scale. They also plan on holding a conference with Islamic scholars and Imams to lay the groundwork for a reintroduction to the true traditional version of Islam before it was hijacked by extremists.
There has been over $70 Billion dollars set aside by donor nations for Afghanistan's re-development but these funds have been frozen for lack of a reliable and trustworthy partner. The NWSC proposes that all Afghanistan-designated development funds be managed through e-Transparency and e-Sourcing solutions that they are proposing to build, which are easily implementable.
These people have a calling it would seem -- a vocation to a higher cause. And there is none bigger than helping pull one of the world's most failed states from the brink of complete destruction. The U.S. at this point need only give money and get out of the way. It is the least we can do. Congressman Rohrabacher put it best when he said the Afghans were the ones that beat the Soviets on behalf of the United States, and it was Afghan soldiers that beat the Taliban after 9/11 (albeit in tandem with the U.S. providing more than adequate air support).
And for all the talk of promoting private enterprise and free market capitalism, I noticed one common trait that each and every one of these leaders lacked, which was, ironically -- profit motive.