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Securing Peace in Afghanistan After US Withdrawal

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Co-authored by Haseena Qudrat and Michelle Kamrany

The creation of nine U.S. military bases in post-war Afghanistan will prolong the war, costing more American blood and treasure, inviting jihadis in the Middle East and Asia to shoot at Americans, who will be sitting ducks, sustaining the onslaught of bombs and suicide youth, continuous plundering the the military bases and adding to the burden of the U.S. budget deficit. The better alternative is to provide development assistance and let the Afghans resolve their own situation. After nearly 12 years, the U.S. war in Afghanistan may be winding down thanks to President Obama's decision to speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops in the spring of this year instead of in the summer, saving American and Afghan lives and wealth. This 180-degree shift in policy augurs well for the arrival of peace in Afghanistan after being involved in various conflicts for 35 years. The expectation is that fighting will stop when foreign troops are gone and the flow of suicide bombers and explosives from Pakistan are halted.

Afghans have resisted foreign troops from antiquity until the present at an enormous cost of lives and wealth. The current resistance is no exception. The critical question, especially for Afghans, to consider is the issue of peace and war following the withdrawal of foreign troops.

1. Will the central government be overthrown? Recent history shows that nearly two years after the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, its Marxist client government was overthrown. However, there are two factors that may obviate an overthrow. First, the U.S. is attempting to get the Taliban to participate in a peace accord with the central government, encouraging the Taliban to participate through the political process in some form of a coalition government. Secondly, the U.S. is busy equipping the central government's military force to reach 350,000 soldiers and is providing substantial training. Two caveats are in order. First, the Taliban have been reluctant to participate in the peace process with the central government and secondly, a Taliban shadow government is already in a dominant position with respect to most of the country's population and land area. Besides, the Afghan military's loyalty is to their warlords rather than the central government, and it will disintegrate rather rapidly. Moreover, the emerging government may take punitive measures against those Afghans who are thought to have cooperated with the invaders unless a general amnesty is agreed upon. A condition of settlement mus be none use of force by all factions.

A positive note on this issue is the message that the Taliban issued during the recent Paris peace conference on Afghanistan. It stated that the Taliban believed that all Afghan factions (tribes, ethnicities, etc.) were entitled to legitimate participation in the government and that women will have the right to education and employment. Under this axiom it is possible that the current Central government will be replaced readily, and a new government may emerge with minimal distortion. This might most likely be the outcome. There is no doubt that the emerging government will do away with corruption, warlords, drug lords, and impose special taxes on the 1 percent of the population who became rich by exploiting their government connections.

2. Is there a deep dissonance or discord between sectarian, linguistic, or ethnic groups of the population? Recent history demonstrates that the population during the reign of former King Zahir Shah lived in relative peace for 40 years (1933-1973). First of all, Afghanistan's population is nearly 100 percent Muslim. Although there is a minority of Shia, the two sects have lived in peace for centuries. The only major difference among Afghans is language. There are two prominent languages, Pashto and Farsi. There are some frictions on this issue, but it is not serious, and in the city of Kabul most of the population is bilingual. Although the ethnic Pashtun population is in the majority and have dominated the government since the 1700s, the other ethnic major groups are gaining relative political power. In terms of per capita income, the country's northern region, made up of Uzbeks and Tajiks, tops the rest. In other words, there is no misdistribution of income, wealth, or land in Afghanistan. Therefore, peace and civility amongst the diverse ethnic groups could be a possibility as the country attempts to repair itself and prevail.

3. Another positive note for peaceful post-war Afghanistan is the population's war weariness. It was in 1978 when the Marxist government overthrew the former established government of Afghanistan, and since then, some level of military conflict has endured, wreaking pervasive damage on the country and exacting a high toll in lives and wealth. Afghanistan needs peace to exploit its rich mineral resources, develop industries including food production, agriculture, tourism, construction, and infrastructure, and expand its already rapid growth of transportation and communication networks. Afghanistan's recent annual growth of gross domestic product (GDP) is very favorable. If these trends continue in the postwar period, Afghanistan's per capita income could converge with and even surpass that of some its neighbors.

4. On the positive side, inequality in distribution of wealth, land, and income in Afghanistan is not at the forefront of the ongoing conflict since landlordism is not present in Afghanistan. Recent economic movement has created a dual economy as certain sectors have flourished such as communication, transportation, education, art, and entertainment have pulled ahead, while other sectors, most notably mineral resources and agri-business, are poised to catch up. However, a small group of individuals who have exploited corruption has swindled millions of dollars out of the country and must be eventually held accountable and brought to justice.

5. Drug trafficking dominates the Afghan black market economy as Afghanistan is the major world poppy producer. With so much profit to be made in drug trafficking, many government officials fall victim to temptation. Afghans have rightfully lost faith in their government and crime goes largely unreported, which only provides more incentives and opportunities for criminals who have little fear of being caught. The entire approach of controlling poppy production needs to be revised by the Afghan authorities in favor of alternative crops. It can be done and could be profitable for Afghan farmers.

6. There has been a major gap between donors' aid promises and disbursement as espoused in several international donor meetings. Aid has not been channeled through the Afghan system and has not had an appreciable impact upon economic development. There is a need to overhaul the approach, and the Afghans must be given the opportunity to be in the driver's seat.

7. The Afghan government's takeover of the entire security apparatus must be realistic and geared to fiscal sustainability with regard to the Afghan budget. The current contemplated security force of 350,000 soldiers is unrealistic and burdensome relative to Afghanistan's fiscal capacity and security requirements. A more sustainable level may be approximately 100,000 soldiers.

8. On January 12, 2013, during Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai's visit to the White House, President Obama was noncommittal on the number of US soldiers that would be left behind in Afghanistan, i.e., the post-2014 U.S. role in Afghanistan. In view of the fact that there is absolutely no al-Qa'ida influence left in Afghanistan, there is no need for any U.S. military contingent in Afghanistan after 2014. If anything, the U.S., along with the other 27 NATO nations, could provide economic assistance for rebuilding the country.

9. Regardless of what happens to the U.S. role after 2014, there is indeed a deluge of uncertainty among Afghans. Those Afghans who are employed by US forces and international agencies fear loss of employment. Landlords fear loss of rent and excessive vacancy, government officials fear loss of jobs, budgets, and wages, and university students are uncertain about what lies ahead.

10. Needless to stay, post-war Afghanistan can be described as an overflow of ambiguities. Nothing is certain for Afghans as the explicit and implicit damages of such a long war settle in. Right now, the psychological, economic, and political factors following this lengthy war are significant in determining the pace at which Afghanistan will attempt to recover and rebuild. Afghanistan has the opportunity to accept the past and commit to a future of peace, liberty, and progress. There must come a time that music, art, and technology find a strong presence in the schools of Afghanistan. As the country marches in to the 21st century, the potential of electing a woman president should exist.

Although war has dominated this country for decades, Afghanistan has clearly demonstrated the strength to survive. The Afghans need to acknowledge their potential and draw upon their past experiences to create a forward-thinking perspective where hardships do not control the opportunity for growth. Dwelling on the darkness of their past and allowing it to influence their current state will only produce more darkness. It is time for Afghanistan to look deeply within and invest all of its energy into education for the youth, emphasizing ethical understanding and a passionate commitment to justice and liberty for all. Furthermore, Afghans must adopt the ideal of mutual collaboration in order to maximize knowledge, both within their own country and with neighboring countries.

It is axiomatic that foreign invasions and occupations are to blame for Afghanistan's current malaise. Foreign occupation has entrenched ethnic divisions in Afghan society -- the central governments have become puppets of foreign powers, supporting foreign occupiers while freedom fighters resisted. We could argue that Afghanistan would be better off if the U.S. and its allies would simply leave unconditionally. We encourage, rather, forward movement on the part of Afghans to find a common identity and a peaceful solution to its problems. We think this solution stems from making the whole of Afghan society part of the solution, including giving legitimacy and a stake to all segments of the population in the outcome, especially women. We also believe in tapping into a common identity around Afghanistan's innate values: respect for neighbors, elderly, and fellow citizens, pride, dignity, honesty, and integrity. The Afghans could go back to their common heritage and to the time before the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1979. We cannot overstate the importance of finding common ground in re-creating the real Afghan culture to build an environment that fosters peace.

At this time it would be prudent for the government of Afghanistan and NATO to declare a general cease fire and general amnesty. This would avail plenty of opportunity to shift from a war to a peace mentality, allowing Afghanistan to join the international community and for U.S. and NATO to declare peace.

Nake Kamrany is a professor of economics at the University of Southern California. Professor Haseena Qudrat is on the faculty of the newly created American University in Afghanistan (Kabul). Michelle Kamrany , a USC graduate in theater, is in the process of introducing music to schools in Kabul.

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