For the American public, there is nothing more satisfying than the notion that the “bad guys,” those who would harbor and aid terrorists such as the Taliban, got what they deserved.
We went into Afghanistan and broke the Taliban’s grip on power, killed many prominent members of al Qaeda, and installed a progressive new regime. In short, we accomplished our original goals, and so now it is time to pull out of Afghanistan and focus on the other parts of Bush’s “axis of evil.”
However, this view could not be farther from the truth. Now more than ever, as has been demonstrated by the recent fighting, it is essential that we reaffirm our commitment to bringing a stable government to Afghanistan and to cultivating allies in the Middle East.
The country that interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai has inherited is divided along tribal lines, torn apart by factions loyal to various warlords, and lacks any coherent notion of a political community that is necessary to create a strong nation. Karzai himself described Afghanistan as a “house that needs to be cleaned — [it] is not a five-star hotel, it is a destroyed home –” Thus, Karzai is faced with the problem of how to construct a strong central government in a nation where armed conflicts have been a way of life since the Soviet invasion in 1979.
So far he has attempted to create a fragile coalition government that uses diplomatic finesse and pragmatic deal-making in order to maintain power. Karzai has appointed warlords to high positions in his cabinet and has actively sought out neutral figures to preside over the various regions of Afghanistan in attempts to maintain peace. However, the recent murder of Abdul Rahman, Afghanistan’s aviation and tourism minister, illustrated how far he has to go and how much he needs help.
Afghanistan presents America with a difficult but unique opportunity. In June of this year a national assembly will take place at which Afghanistan will select a two-year transitional government. Until this point, however, Karzai must maintain his coalition government and at the same time unify the Afghan people. Karzai has very few troops and very little legislative or actual power, and despite the supposed level of goodwill that he enjoys, at times he seems to be at the mercy of the various warring factions.
If this government is able to succeed it would demonstrate to the people of Iraq and Iran that the ways of the West can coexist with the ideals of Islam and provide the West with an ally in a region that has recently proven less than friendly.
All this being said, the question remains: what can the United States do? U.S. officials have repeatedly said that the job of American troops in Afghanistan is to find and punish those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, not to aid in peacekeeping or nation-building.
However, this is exactly what needs to be done. We must not send economic or political advisers to Afghanistan, because to do so would further undermine the government’s legitimacy. Instead, the United States and the West must give the interim government what it does not have: money and soldiers.
If Karzai is sincere in his stated desire not to gain political control, he will not use soldiers to attack his enemies or to rid the country of any groups that he dislikes. The soldiers would be a physical force that could be deployed into the countryside to make sure that any attempted reforms and restoration projects are carried out and not impeded by rival warlords. In addition, soldiers solidify the legitimacy of the interim government against threats from Iran and Pakistan, both of whom Karzai has said are causes for concern.
Money will give this government the ability to begin to construct a basic institutional framework that is necessary to build up Afghanistan’s economy and infrastructure. Basic services such as electricity, running water and roads are not present in a large part of Afghanistan and are fairly simple improvements to make.
In the frenzy to stamp out terrorism around the world and capture Osama bin Laden, we must not lose sight of the fact that one of the best tools we have to fight terrorism is to help the regions of the world that have typically bred radical fundamentalists in the past. By extending military and monetary aid — not our ideology or culture — to Afghanistan, and by attempting to help rebuild the country not as a direct influence but in a support role, the West can go a long way towards beginning to repair its tattered image in the Middle East.
Brian Wallach is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. He is editor in chief of the Yale Politic.