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More Troops Won’t End War in Afghanistan

New America Media, News Analysis, Mizgon Zahir Posted: Dec 01, 2009

Tonight, President Barack Obama will announce his new strategy in Afghanistan. News reports previewing his speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point have indicated that after months of deliberation, he is set to send 30,000 more U.S. troops into the country.

In previous comments about the Afghan war, Obama has said that he will “finish the job.” However, Afghan-Americans hope that sending in more troops is not his idea of finishing the job. Increasing the military presence in Afghanistan when Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s credibility has evaporated may send the wrong message. Recent headlines even revealed that Karzai’s brother was allegedly on the CIA payroll.

“Hamid Karzai and his cabinet are seen as western stooges with no willingness to practice their faith,” said Dr. Nazif Shahrani, a professor of Central Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Indiana University. “The people of Afghanistan do not see loyalty and trust. They distrust Karzai. They distrust Americans.”

Shahrani was commenting before the Afghanistan elections that resulted in Karzai winning another term. Since then, similar sentiments echo throughout cyberspace on such sites as the Facebook pages of Afghan Americans as well as live Afghan satellite television programming.

“Frankly, Americans stayed too long in Afghanistan. They were welcome in the beginning but then there were a lot of casualties and innocent people were dying. Now they are not as well liked. That’s why Afghans are looking to the Taliban again and they are gaining momentum,” said one Afghan who works at an American-based NGO operating in Afghanistan and preferred to be anonymous.

The combination of a discredited Afghan government and the feeling that U.S. troops have overstayed their welcome is formula for disaster in Afghanistan. But if sending more troops into Afghanistan is not the solution, what is? An alternative that might work to end the Afghan war is to decentralize the Afghan government, according to Shahrani.

Imagine an Afghanistan where rudimentary village governments were allowed to run schools, police units and courts. Afghanistan would no longer be separated into ethnic fractions and the local village and district leaders, appointment by the people, could provide accountability. The process could be as simple as gathering the elders in each province and asking them to identify people whom they trust to carry guns, regulate laws, and report to a higher governing power. Of course, it is not as simple as it sounds in theory, but it can be done.

The United States failed to recognize that past centralized governments fell because of the lack of checks and balances.

“Everyone sees the state as the golden-goose. Once you’re in, your friends, family and cronies are protecting your every action,” said Shahrani.

If Obama wants a victory, he should rethink governmental structure in Afghanistan. The United States influenced the formation of the new Afghan governmental post 9/11 and can do so again. Instead of sending in more troops, providing money to help restructure the government makes more sense to most Afghans living in the diaspora.

“Decentralization in the sense that we understand it is important as much as centralization is important. We have already taken steps for decentralizing the Afghan government by giving more authority to governors. It makes sense because they are closer to the Afghan people,” said Ashraf Haidari the political counselor at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C. “Afghans, including some in government, do not agree with this because of lack of education and lack of understanding of federalism. They compare it to separating Afghanistan.”

Haidari believes that corruption in Afghanistan is a systemic problem. “First, the government lacks capacity, second they lack resources to do the job. Without capacity and without pay, it’s key to corruption,” said Haidari.

Although Haidari does not believe in complete decentralization he does agree that it may work. “Afghanistan is a sovereign country and rule of culture is far more important than the rule of law in some areas,” he said.

“What the international community must realize above all is that putting together a postwar government involves not merely trying to heal the wounds of the past two decades,” said Shahrani. “It means at the same time continuing the movement that began in earnest a generation ago, of liberating the nation from a barely extinguished feudalism that reigned for hundreds of years, with a few exceptions. The two challenges cannot be separated.”

“The government of Afghanistan should embrace the principles of community self-governance at village, district and provincial levels,” said Shahrani. “Central government should make national law and then pass the responsibility to local government. The concept may seem archaic, but it is respecting of current cultural practices.”

Afghanistan has long been a society that values village elders. In such a small country where culture is appreciated beyond nationality, a centralized government creates friction among the people. A decentralized community-based governing structure may bring long anticipated peace to the country.

So when Obama announces his strategy to get the job done, he should consider these fundamentals of the country’s culture and history. Ending the war and achieving victory may not necessarily mean sending in more troops to Afghanistan. It may mean rethinking the governmental structure in Afghanistan.

Related Articles:

India Struggles With Afghan Strategy

Afghan Insurgents Infiltrate Security Forces

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