The South Asia Channel

Actions speak louder than words

Actions speak louder than words

At the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn, Germanylast week, 85 countries affirmed their commitment to Afghanistan for the decadefollowing the 2014 transition, and highlighted gains over the past 10 years inthe areas of security, women’s rights and the capacity of governmentinstitutions. They also acknowledged the reversible nature of this progress, aswell as the significant work left to be accomplished. Previousdiscussions on Afghanistanwithin the international community have exclusively addressed the transitionperiod between now and 2014. This conference introduced the concept of a muchneeded blueprint for the years following the transition: the "transformation decade"of 2015-2024. This blueprint details two initial milestones: the May 2012 NATOsummit in Chicago, where an announcement is anticipated regarding long-term AfghanNational Security Force funding (ANSF), and a July 2012 conference in Japan, wheremore details regarding international economic support will be announced. Thoughthe December 5 Bonn conference, eclipsed in part by Pakistan’slast minute withdrawal, fell short of announcing major breakthroughs in thepeace process (against high expectationscreated by Bonn 2001), it was an important first step in acknowledging themagnitude of the task that remains unfinished. Now that we have affirmed our longterm commitment in spirit, tangible demonstrations are essential in order tobuild momentum and avoid the perception of empty promises. The internationalcommunity and Afghanistanshould proceed to the next step of defining the first concrete details in theblueprint’s foundation. 

As the 2011 Bonn conferenceconclusions stated, "this renewed partnership between Afghanistan and theInternational Community entails firm mutual commitments in the areas ofgovernance, security, the peace process, economic and social development andregional cooperation." The United States should demonstrate this long-termcommitment to Afghanistan in the form of a formal strategic partnershipendorsed by both nations and announced as soon as possible.  It should reflect planned troop reductions (33,000by the end of summer 2012), but maintain U.S. advisory and counterterrorismcapabilities beyond 2014, through the next Afghan political administration in2019. This force would sustain the tempo of counterterrorist operations andprovide professional advice and enablers to the Afghan army and police. Itshould number 10,000 to 25,000 personnel and could be reduced as the ANSFdemonstrate their post-transition competence through the 2014 elections andinto the next political administration. U.S. personnel numbers could alsobe reduced by coalition contributions. Counterterrorist operations should focuson al-Qaeda’s attempts to relocate in remote areas of Afghanistan, aswell as target the leadership of insurgent groups who refuse to reconcile andcontinue to challenge the stability of the government. Advisory and enablingforces should focus on the professional development and training of the Afghanarmy and police, as well as their effective performance in the field. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,in her openingremarks at Bonn stated: "…the United Statesis prepared to stand with the Afghan people, but Afghans themselves must alsomeet the commitments they have made, and we look forward to working with themto embrace reform, lead their own defense, and strengthen their democracy."Afghans should consider improving their government by empoweringprovincial-level authorities and reducing corruption. Both measures areessential to the condition-setting that must take place prior to seriousnegotiations with insurgents. Each province should be granted the right toselect its own governor and to employ independent fiscal, legislative, andconflict resolution powers. Provincial government employees should be hiredfrom within the province and should answer to provincial leaders. Internationalfinancial aid for projects like medical clinics, roads, schools and electricityshould be funneled directly to the provinces in order to create rapid publicsupport. These measures, over time, would bring the power and resources of thegovernment to parts of the country where Kabul’sleadership is viewed as corrupt and incompetent as a result of nepotism,cronyism and its management of funds.  Atthe same time, anti-corruption efforts from within the government must beintensified. Afghans should enact laws consistent with The Afghan NationalAnti-Corruption Strategy.  Continuedcoalition and international assistance through this decade in the form ofadvice, investigation, and prosecution is essential. More effective localgovernance and courts would also serve to undermine the appeal of localconflict resolution currently offered by insurgents.

Some reforms empowering provincialand district governance have already been planned. In the spring of 2010, theAfghan Government’s Independent Directorate of Local Governance published its Sub-nationalGovernance Policy. This policy is comprehensive and, if resourced,supported, and given time, would significantly enhance the contribution oflocal government to Afghan quality of life. This will take time and require thecontinued commitment of the UnitedStates and the coalition to educate Afghancivil servants. This policy appropriately calls for and schedules elections ofprovincial, district, and village councils and should be modified toincorporate the election of provincial and district governors. Should Afghansdesire these measures, the constitution would have to be modified through theassembly of a constitutional loya jirga. This initiative could be a part of Afghanistan’snational dialogue in the run-up to the 2014 election and perhaps lead to apost-election loya jirga. 

Without U.S.and international commitment through the end of this decade, Afghanistan will likely fall backinto the civil war it experienced in the early 1990s. As fighting spreads, India and Pakistan will back their Afghanproxies and the conflict could intensify. This situation would not only createopportunities for safe haven for extremists, but also invite a confrontationbetween adversarial and nuclear-armed states. The potential for such an outcomeruns counter to U.S.and coalition interests.

Bonn 2001 began a journey toward Afghanistan’sstability and representative government that has demanded great sacrifice byAfghans, Americans, and other members of the coalition. Bonn 2011 continues thejourney and acknowledges the requirement for long term international commitmentand Afghan resolve. The journey has come far from its humble beginning, butrequires sustained international support and American leadership to remain oncourse.

COL Mark Fields is aMilitary Fellow at the Center for Strategic Research, part of National DefenseUniversity’s Institute for National Strategic Studies.  He has served in Afghanistan and is theauthor of "AReview of the 2001 Bonn Conference and Application to the Road Ahead inAfghanistan." The views expressed are his alone, and do not necessarilyrepresent those of National Defense University, the Department of Defense, orthe U.S. Government.