Foreign Policy Blogs

Ahmed Rashid and Joshua Foust Offer Some Advice

When it comes to prognosticating, the most dangerous game political scientists play (game theory can be quite scary though), about Afghanistan’s future, you could do a lot worse than Central Asian analysts Joshua Foust and Ahmed Rashid. In two recent pieces, Foust in the New York Times and Rashid in a lecture in Philadelphia, each gave a sober, if not pessimistic, appraisal of the United States/NATO’s prospects to defeat the Taliban and create a viable and stable Afghanistan state. Buuuuuutttttt, these two also offered some sound recommendations that could help lead to a positive outcome in the ongoing conflict.

Foust’s piece focuses on the Marja offensive, which he believes can only be truly effective if the US can do what it has failed to do many times before, and that is STAY until progress on the ground can be cemented. Here are the four hurdles Foust declares must be overcome for success in Marja, and in future offensives in Kandahar:

1. Displaced Civilians – Basically, we need to make sure those who have permanently or temporarily lost their homes get suitable assistance.

2. How Govern Marja – Foust argues that appointed district Governor Haji Abdul Zahir should be replaced with, wait for it, someone from the region and elected by its citizens.

3. Local Economy – The opium farmers will need to be compensated appropriately or they will just go back to the well.

4. Keep Taliban Away – This is simple and obvious, but for large swaths of Afghans South and East, including Marja, it has not been accomplished. The citizens of Marja have to know, I mean really believe, that the US/Afghan forces will not allow the Taliban back in.

Ahmed Rashid (Emily Hager of Best Defense summarizes Rashid’s lecture up well) began his talk with a dire overview of the current situation, analyzed the Obama administration’s strategy so far, and ends with a recommendation for the immediate resumption of negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government.

Rashid believes the Obama administration has the right ideas: ‘building a regional strategy that includes key players from Pakistan to Iran to Saudi Arabia; investing in the Afghan economy, especially in agriculture; improving governance; and using troops to secure population centers.’
But Rashid believes the administration made one very big mistake and that was to set a timetable for withdrawal. draw down of American forces is set to start in July, 2011. He argued that this ‘leaves very little time to build up the Afghan economy and promote good governance,… will promote panic in the Afghan government, encourage a wait-it-out mentality among the Taliban, and prompt neighboring countries to send in the proxies and begin sorting out potential lines of influence in a post-war Afghanistan.’
Like seemingly all things in politics and foreign affairs, Rashid’s recommendations are complicated. The US needs to outwardly show that they are in Afghanistan for the long haul, but that Washington DC should stay out of negotiations regarding the status of the country’s future political makeup by letting the Karzai-led government and Taliban negotiate on their own.
Read each piece and let me know what you think.