In Afghanistan, we must not blame others for our mistakes
With a new administration in the US, President Joe Biden will be the fourth President to inherit the Afghan quagmire. Indeed, if we listen to the famed CIA officer who ran the covert war in the late 80’s, Milt Bearden, this is not a 20-year-war but rather a 40-year-war and one that involves Pakistan and Iran as much as Afghanistan.
Biden will deal with the same questions as those before him: More troops or less? Cut aid budget or maintain it? Put more pressure on Pakistan or less? Get a regional solution with Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan on board? All these are thoughts of merit, but Afghans must not lose sight of what is in our hands.
No matter what other countries do, the basic problem lies in Afghanistan’s ownership and less in the blame game.
I have grown up during this war, starting from Qandahar, and then doing my business between Qandahar, Kabul, Dubai and London. I have seen both the positives and negatives of Afghan leadership. I have worked closely with former President Karzai and his brothers in my native province and saw the intervention uplift the economy like never before, with our national currency outperforming neighboring Pakistan’s.
Our sports have flourished and our cricket team is a global success story, our youth football teams have beaten both Iran and Pakistan-- both countries with far better sports infrastructures than ours.
However, with the positives I have also seen the negatives. As is well known through Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), corruption in Afghanistan has been the bane of our progress. It is this corruption, both financial and moral, that has led to non-state actors gaining ground and outdoing both local and federal governments in governance, however harsh and extreme their tactics might be.
If the government, which has been given tens of billions had performed, we would not be in such a mess. In defense of the Afghan government, corruption has worked both ways with consultants and so-called Afghan experts making more money than the local ones by feeding off of international corruption.
While the sanctity and unity of Afghanistan will never be compromised, local problems need local solutions and not all of them are in Kabul. Qandahar can trade with Quetta and through our agriculture alone we can provide sustenance and then strengthen Kabul.
Sayed Jalal Agha
Our security forces, while brave and robust, must also ask why so many innocents have been killed. Two wrongs do not make a right, and as one award winning Dutch journalist recently pointed out, most often faulty local intelligence by locals coupled with Western ignorance has led to many deaths for no reason. In many villages, the Taliban was a bogey man that didn’t even exist.
People were killed to settle old tribal and family feuds. This cannot be blamed on neighbors. We must stand up and take responsibility. Foreigners cannot be blamed for the impasse of the previous election which was disputed and before. In fact, on both occasions it was first John Kerry and then Zalmay Khalilzad who settled local disputes-- for once a foreigner doing good rather than bad. If the democratic sides cannot agree on how to vote, or trust the vote count, and every minister has their own ambitions, then it is futile blaming non-state groups given the government is responsible for its own actions.
Ahmad Massoud has written about decentralization in his column for the New York Times last year, arguing that local areas far away from Kabul should not be forgotten-- their problems are different from the Kabul bubble of diplomats, journalists and aid workers.
I argue the same from my decades of experience in Qandahar. While the sanctity and unity of Afghanistan will never be compromised, local problems need local solutions and not all of them are in Kabul. Qandahar can trade with Quetta and through our agriculture alone we can provide sustenance and then strengthen Kabul. James Brett and the Plant for Peace Foundation in the UK proved that Afghanistan’s fruit and nuts can be sold in top UK markets such as Waitrose, Whole Foods and Sainsbury’s. This must be the model for the future of Afghanistan. While cricket, agriculture and fruit nuts cannot solve a lack of governance, these are indicators of success, and of change.
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah has been working for two decades and before that during the resistance against the Soviets. If local governance issues are dealt with, then the deserts, mountains and caves shall all be secure and that in turn will protect Kabul from foreigners.
The economy is key and officials must be answerable and open to the scrutiny of ordinary Afghans. Only then, will we cease to blame others.
– Sayed Jalal Agha Special adviser and envoy to Dr Abdullah Abdullah and the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR). He also runs the Youth Peace Voice Organisation which helps young Afghans through education and leadership roles in business.