Finally, the US has accepted what it had refused since 2001. It cannot escape-nation building in Afghanistan. Controlling territory by bribing regional warlords is one thing, but re-establishing security requires something else.
US President Barack Obama said as much on Friday in his speech on the new American strategy in Afghanistan. He promised 4,000 more troops (in addition to the 17,000 extra troops from the present force level) and hundreds of US specialists to bolster Kabul’s ability to deliver development in far-flung and remote areas.
This is a welcome move. But Obama should be aware of the uphill nature of this task.
Historically, Afghanistan has never had a strong central government. It has seen an uneasy equilibrium between regional forces in the country. The paradox of Afghanistan is that it is a nation without much of a government.
Creating a credible central government should have been top priority for the Bush administration. But that regime believed in “nation-building lite”. It helped no one. If the US can create a strong government in Kabul, it will do a lasting service to peace in South Asia.
Pakistan, in spite of high hopes of cooperation the US president has from it, remains a major roadblock. Obama recognizes the importance of securing Pakistani collaboration in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan. He has requested Congress to pass the Bill that triples civilian aid to Islamabad every year for the next five years. In addition, the US wants to equip Pakistan to fight terrorists effectively.
The US is unlikely to secure such help. No amount of civilian and military aid is likely to cure Pakistan of its strategic myopia about Afghanistan. American and Pakistani interests in Kabul are antagonistic in this respect. The US now wants a capable and credible government in Kabul; that is not in Pakistan’s interest. For such a government would want to take an independent stand on various domestic and foreign policy issues; Pakistan has not let that happen since the time of the last Afghan ruler, Zahir Shah. It is too much to expect that it will let it happen now.
The new American strategy for Afghanistan: old wine in a new bottle? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org