Thursday, January 18, 2007

Meanwhile, Back in Afghanistan...

From Joshua Foust's weblog, The Conjecturer:
Troops aren’t the only reason Afghanistan is falling. It is also governance. Since at least 2003, the use of unrestrained foreign aid, which is a significant percentage of the country’s GDP, moving outside the bounds, controls, and supervision of Kabul has been systematically undermining confidence in the national government. This ignores the very real problems of corruption spurred by the drug trade; from a fundamental policy level, the system of governance in Afghanistan denied President Karzai any say in how his country was to be administered. Doing something as simple as channeling all foreign aid through official government channels would go a long way toward establishing Kabul as the actual center of political and government life in Afghanistan.

That’s why I was pleased to see Karzai make a move to establish more control over PRTs, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (like that USAID dam project). Doing so, despite their severe limitations in manpower and resources, will help to stabilize the central government. That being said, they have to have more Afghanis, and a far more visible connection to Kabul; otherwise, they’ll remain as untrustworthy foreigners telling the locals how to run themselves.

Here’s the trick: these PRTs are supposedly going to be tasked with eliminating opium production—a strategy that is doomed to strengthen the Taliban. Fighting poppy, which is another way of strangling the only real way Afghanis have of making any money, will not curtail the influence of the drug runners. A more realistic policy would be partial legitimation, coopting the drug lords and their Taliban allies out of the trade entirely. If a farmer gets the same price for his opium, but one buyer is legal and affords him police/NATO protection, while another buyer is not legal and affords him nothing but their vague promises of security and retributions, it is likely the influence of the drug lords, and their corrupting influence on the outlying provinces, will be deeply curtailed.

Furthermore, why is it taking them until 2007 to realize they need to train their PRTs, and be sensitive to local concerns? Robert Perrito, of the US Institute for Peace, actually wrote in a 2005 report that a learning process resulted in the fairly common sense conclusion that local language and cultural training, and a deep regard for local concerns, is the most effective way to rebuild an area. Why this was a revelation escapes me, though it does point to a darker conclusion: no one had any idea what they were doing, and didn’t think to find out for years.