Only a few weeks ago President Obama outlined his Afghan strategy after weeks of deliberation. The new strategy calls for an escalation of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan by adding 30,000 troops to the war effort (around 100,000 total). These troops will be sent immediately and begin implementing a similar “surge” strategy that was (arguably) successful in Iraq. This strategy has been opposed by some and for further comments look here and here.
As more American troops are sent to the region there are four major areas of concern: 1)corruption, 2)the drug trade, 3) an effective U.S. economic and political aid program, and 4) understanding the link between the Taliban and Al-Qaida. There is no doubt that when the U.S. military seeks to clear an area they will do so with relative ease. However, as in Iraq, a military success does not lead to political reconciliation. Given that the military surge will be a success, there are four areas of focus that must be part of our strategy.
1.) Corruption: The recent Afghan election was plagued by fraud. This recent corruption underlines a much more broad and difficult corruption present at virtually every level of the Karzai government. Even Karzai’s own brother is reportedly deeply involved the drug trade (see below), and paid by the CIA. According to Peter Galbraith, former Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United nations to Afghanistan: “For the Obama strategy to succeed, you need a credible, local partner,”…”You need a government that can provide public services, honest administration, and win the confidence of the people. That doesn’t exist.”
Furthermore, According to Amin Tarzi, director of Middle East Studies at the Marine Corps University, the issue of legitimacy of the Afghan government needs to be addressed to combat corruption. “The majority of Afghans… do not believe in the structure of their government, they do not believe that the system in place will last,” he said.
This point cannot be stressed enough. Without a legitimate government in Kabul, the U.S. strategy cannot achieve its goals-whatever they may be. There are some interesting approaches to fixing the corruption problem. First, a broad study done by the U.N offers some history, statistics, and approaches to fixing some of the problems. I am concerned that the U.S. has put all of its eggs in one basket with Karzai. While I am free to criticize this point, I understand that our options are limited. Time will tell if Karzai will be able fight corruption and gain the trust of his people.
Finally, the US needs to be an guiding hand. During the Bush Administration, failure after failure was disregarded as its own focus was on Iraq. As troops start leaving Iraq and the focus shifts to Afghanistan, the United States need to be smart about how it offers support to this fragile country. No doubt, the appointment of MR. Afpak, Richard Holbrooke, is a great first start.
Any thoughts on how the U.S. can combat corruption?