How to Win Peace in Afghanistan
For Half the Price of War*
By Zaman Stanizai
A reassessment of the situation in Afghanistan is underway as
the uncertainty of the upcoming runoff election amidst looming fears of a civil
war have spawned jitters over troop deployment levels in Washington.
At the heart of the crisis is our inability to define our
objectives in the conflict. We plunged head on into the crisis knowing
nothing beyond the initial attainable goal of dislodging the Al-Qaeda, whose
numbers have since dwindled to fewer than a hundred according to General Jones,
and toppling the Taliban government in Kabul.
But somewhere along the way we forgot our mission and at the
behest of the Northern Alliance identified the entire Pashtun population in
Afghanistan as the enemy and conveniently vilified them as the Taliban.
By transferring blame from one party to another and from a few to the many, we
lost track of identifying the enemy, ours and by extension theirs, as we
resorted to our oft-failed tactic of applying a military solution to political
problems and by using urban war tactics to a rural insurgency. This gross
negligence turned the situation into a paradox of failing military strategies,
inherently contradictory political propositions, and conflicting regional
interests that it is Afghanistan:
In Afghanistan, we insist on winning a war for which our
military presence is the cause and not the solution.
We are protecting the façade of a government that represents the
tyranny of the minority rather than the will of the majority.
We are identifying Taliban ideologically, whereas in Afghanistan
they are defined ethnically, as Pashtuns, so our campaign against them amounts
to our participation in a civil war.
We are training an army dominated by the Tajik minority to fight
an insurgency in areas of the country dominated by the Pashtun majority.
We are planning to expand the Afghan security forces to 400,000
at an unsustainable cost of $3.5 billion that is four times the entire annual
GDP of Afghanistan.
We are militarizing a country at
an exceptionally high civilian/military ratio amidst ethnic tensions that
linger after a three-decade long civil war, lest we forget future ‘blowbacks.’
Against these odds, can the U.S. avoid the fate of previous
invaders and prevent the Afghan crisis from becoming Obama’s Achille’s
heel? It is difficult to answer history in the affirmative unless we
genuinely pursue a drastically different path—in line with the advocacy of
‘change’, and Obama’s status as the Nobel Laureate for peace. The way to win
peace without losing the war is to think outside the box for a practical solution
based on trust and sincerity to show that we are a ‘helping hand’ and not an
Afghanistan’s enemies are poverty, political disenfranchisement,
religious manipulation, and social alienation. Through the peace alternative we
can give the people the hope and opportunity for a life style that doesn’t feed
on the miseries of war—“Nothing stops crime better than a working hand.”
We can drain the pond in which the extremists fish by denying them their most
formidable resource—the human resource.
Such a strategy demands that our 21st century expectations meet
the 19th century life style of the Afghans at the juncture of peace and
reconciliation so that for once we can apply their solutions to their problems.
They can be independent within the modern world, but not isolated from
it. The starting point can be the Pashto saying, “You can’t win villages
by force,” as we direct our efforts towards village building instead of ‘nation
building.’ We can do this by building village community centers to
introduce modernity to them on their terms.
The benefits of an enduring peace will always out weigh the
miseries of perpetual wars. By making a tangible and visible investment
in their lives, as the U.S. did in the 1960s, we can win the hearts and minds of
the economically neglected and politically marginalized Pashtuns in the
war-torn areas of rural Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The safety of these community centers can be guaranteed through
a priority of built-in immunities. Mosques that have a built-in protection
against extremists’ attacks should be built first and schools, libraries, and
health clinics should be phased in according to a similar safety assessment.
These facilities should be Internet-connected to broaden the people’s worldview
by providing access to a more progressive Islam that is not in conflict with
modernity and a spiritual rather than the doctrinal dimension of Islam.
There should be electronic libraries on history, literature, arts and sciences
that revive a sense of cultural pride in a heritage that inspires a sense of
responsibility through relevant historical narratives.
In due course, sports facilities should be built to draw the
youth away from battlefields. Arts, crafts, and cottage industry modules should
be built with micro-lending banking; agribusiness cooperatives to subsidize
alternative crop substitution replacing opium poppy cultivation.
Pharmaceutical plants should be built to turn the local poppy harvest into
medicinal drugs that will not only eliminate narco-financing of the insurgency,
but also provide opportunities for sound economic investment.
Because the community will have a vested interest in these
projects, they will protect with their blood that which they have built with
their own hands. Nonetheless, a contingency of rapid re-building plans
should be in place in the event of attacks and sabotage.
As extensive as this may seem, it can be done with a fraction of
the cost of military operations and will certainly have better prospects of
They say a republic loses its soul when it becomes an empire.
The opportunity awaits a new American leader like Barack Obama to convince the
world that our imperial reach can be soulfully democratic.
*This Peace Proposal also appeared in ArticlesBase.com in October 2009.