This post was co-authored by:
Dr. NAKE M. KAMRANY, University of Southern California
Cole Kosydar, University of Pennsylvania
At the NATO summit in Warsaw, German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered her support for a continued NATO presence in Afghanistan, citing a need to stem the persistently high levels of Afghan immigration to Germany and Europe. In 2015, Afghans were second only to Syrians as Germany's largest migrant group, a stark reminder that war and social strife have continued unabated in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion more than a decade ago.
Before the summit, President Obama announced that 8,400 U.S. soldiers would also remain in Afghanistan through the end of the year, reneging on an earlier promise to withdraw all American forces from the country by the end of his tenure in office. In addressing what has become American's longest war, the President pointed to circumstances on the ground - a resurgent Taliban, the ongoing Syrian war, and a diminished but still lethal threat from Isis in the region- as reasons for a continued U.S. military presence. After 14 years, however, it is circumspect to justly ask what, if anything, has the U.S. invasion and occupation achieved? And how can we address the current social crisis?
Since President Bush gave his imprimatur that Afghanistan would never again be a base for terrorists to attack the West, America has suffered 2,215 casualties, while it is estimated that over 92,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan with around 26,000 Afghan civilians dying violent deaths. The war has cost American taxpayers well over 1 trillion dollars and flooded Afghanistan with financial aid grants and loans that have left the country essentially dependent on a wartime economy. This confluence of violent warfare and economic strife has created an exodus of over 1.2 million people leaving for safer shores.
We argue that there is a better way forward in Afghanistan other than just the military option. More troops alone will not defeat the Taliban or solve Afghanistan's emigration problem. The solution needs to be based on political engagement and economic development, both at a micro level. This would encourage state building and economic reconstruction.
Politically, coalition forces should forget the hopeless task of creating a federal central government and seek to empower local tribes to govern themselves as they historically have. The Taliban should also be included as part of the rebuilding process. It would be easier to nullify the Taliban's influence diplomatically on a local level rather than through force; after all, the Taliban's only influence is force. Coalition forces shouldn't continue to engage with the Taliban on their own terms.
Economically, the U.S. and IMF should increase micro loans not to the Afghan government, but to local tribal councils, bypassing the avenues of corruption inherent in the government structure. Instead of eradicating poppy plantations, which only drives angry farmers into the hands of the Taliban, coalitions forces should focus on building rural infrastructure that would allow for the development of alternative crops. These capacity building projects take longer, but would be more sustainable and would give Afghans a greater opportunity to become more economically enfranchised at home, thus preventing the lure of the Taliban and the need for mass migration. The task ahead is tiresome but we believe economic development and political engagement at a micro-level is the best way forward, least we be haunted by Oscar Wilde's words from the first Anglo-Afghan War.
"O loved ones lying far away,
What word of love can dead lips send!
O wasted dust! O senseless clay!
Is this the end! is this the end! "