Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Recent lessons from Afghanistan – “what really works”

At a panel discussion held today at The Woodrow Wilson International Center entitled, “Linking Security and Development in State Building: Recent Lessons from Afghanistan,” three experts discussed the steps that should be taken to manage Afghan reconstruction.

Panelists included Candace Karp, special assistant to the president of Afghanistan’s senior economic advisor; J. Alexander Thier, the senior rule of law advisor at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP); and Mark S. Ward, the senior deputy assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Moderator Michael Lund, a consulting program manager at the Wilson Center, opened the discussion with a short introduction in which he encouraged the panelists to go beyond the usual Washington discourse. Lund expected them to pursue the topic with a critical examination of “what really works” in achieving peace and prosperity in Afghanistan. Lund went on to say that he considers Afghanistan to be, if not a failed state, then definitely a fragile state. He also sees the need for a holistic strategy, which utilizes purposeful inter-organizational collaboration, if the country is to truly prosper.

Candace Karp’s focus in the discussion was on reconstruction and development in a state building framework. Karp believes 2007 to be a crucial year for Afghanistan. As is known, we are currently witnessing insurgency in the south and southeastern parts of the country. According to Karp this is destabilizing and has undermined prior progress and contributed to growing skepticism in civil society. Trust is decreasing with regard to the Afghan government being responsive to public needs and social services and Karp sees no silver bullet solution.

To identify current development needs, Karp sees a need to prioritize capabilities so the financial resources available can be most effectively utilized. This is necessary to promote faith in the government and safeguard against further support for the Taliban insurgency.

Finally, Karp sees as a major concern, in the nongovernmental organizations’ lack of willingness or outright refusal to cooperate with the U.S. military in joint interventions. She asserts that coordination and cooperation is a fundamental component of failed state rebuilding efforts.

Mark S. Ward just returned from Kabul this week. Like Karp he stressed the importance of collaboration and of NGOs working side by side with the US military. However, Ward began his remarks by looking back at the gloomy situation in Afghanistan in 2001 and the subsequent progress that has been made since. According to Ward, USAID’s strongest assets are their people on the ground in field programs who can accurately assess how reconstruction funds should be allocated. In this vein, Ward noted the importance of good infrastructure, notably transportation infrastructure, in reconstruction efforts. He was also proud to say that USAID has worked closely with donors and the central, provincial and local governments in Afghanistan in setting priorities to help reach the lofty political goals that have been established for the nation.

J Alexander Thier ended today’s discussion by conveying a more pessimistic attitude with regards to the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. He began by asking the audience, “Where did we go wrong in Afghanistan?” believing that we have generally failed to provide security for Afghan civilians. Thier also referred to a dramatic change in rhetoric by the Bush administration, quoting a statement from the 2000 presidential debate in North Carolina where President Bush said, “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building.” According to Thier, these remarks were indicative of the fact that, from the beginning, the U.S. was not fully committed to addressing the critical challenge that the situation in Afghanistan presented. Indeed, Thier argued that Afghanistan has suffered severely because of America’s shift in focus from the situation in Afghanistan to the war in Iraq.

As an end note, the panel agreed that there is a need to realize that it is not all doom and gloom in Afghanistan. The problem, they said, is that reconstruction success stories are seldom communicated in the media.


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