The Magazine

How to Win the Peace in Afghanistan

America needs to stay the course.

Jul 1, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 41 • By ELIE D. KRAKOWSKI
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IT IS UNDER these difficult circumstances that we must win the peace. First and most important, we must fully realize our own strength. We need to shed the self-doubt that seems to accompany every decision entailing a modicum of risk. The Pakistani general quoted above revealed something telling: When President Bush stated America's objective as the elimination of terrorism, when he said that states had a choice to be with us or against us, and when the United States attacked in Afghanistan, people were afraid. When the president identified an "axis of evil" and warned states sympathetic to it that they would become targets unless they changed their ways, they believed he might be serious.

Subsequent American behavior has raised some doubts. Perhaps the Pakistani general was right. Perhaps America acted only from anger, and anger is difficult to sustain. What is needed is not anger. It is will, applied to a reasoned, calculated strategy designed to achieve results in the conditions that now confront us.

Americans may still not fully realize the extent of the dangers at hand. The states surrounding Afghanistan are keenly aware of them. If anything the events of September11 have increased their desire for a strong American role. While they are wary of a continued U.S. presence in the region and a pro-American Afghanistan, those concerns compete with their continuing fears of al Qaeda and the global Islamist movement. These states have no difficulty visualizing the destruction of the Taliban and the rout of al Qaeda in Afghanistan as leading merely to the relocation of the Islamist forces elsewhere in and near Central Asia.

The Afghans themselves are not the stumbling block to a lasting peace and reconstruction. They are tired of fighting and willing to come to terms with each other. But Afghans, like everyone else on the planet, compete for power and influence. And when external assistance directed to individual ethnic or tribal groups is plentiful and forthcoming, there is little reason to expect that they will refrain from taking advantage of it.

An effective settlement, therefore, must rechannel the continuing interference of Afghanistan's neighbors in more constructive directions. And to do this entails a central and continuing American role. The United States is the only power capable of materially affecting outcomes, and as an outsider to the region, it is also the most appropriate for the role.

As I have argued elsewhere in more detail, a comprehensive strategy for winning the peace in Afghanistan would create a web of interactions to achieve the following objectives: (1) ensure that the United States remains involved in the region over the long term, (2) convincingly demonstrate to the states of the region that it will so remain, (3) place the United States in a position to press and enforce its views, or at least to act as a balancer among competing regional interests, and (4) minimize the ability of regional states to do mischief and to assist individual Afghan factions or groups.

The best way--probably the only way--of accomplishing these ends is to institutionalize in a more coherent framework what is now a haphazard set of individual and bilateral interactions. For that purpose, two separate bodies should be created.

The first, a Concert of States, would be a small group made up of the United States, Afghanistan, its neighbors (Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China), Russia, and possibly India, which has a history of involvement in Afghanistan. Periodic high-level meetings of the members would be supplemented by the creation of a smaller body composed of a special envoy for Afghanistan from each member state. The Concert would define, guarantee, and help to maintain an Afghan settlement. It would deal with all the substantive issues to arise in conjunction with an Afghan settlement and help make developments in the region more visible and open. While rechanneling the involvement of regional states, it would also lessen their fear of being somehow excluded as players on the Afghan scene.

Because the needs of Afghan reconstruction are so great, a much larger grouping of states is also required. This second body, a Reconstruction and Development Conference, would include the states willing and able to contribute financially to Afghan reconstruction. Created for a period of five to ten years and designed to lapse unless extended by a two-thirds vote, the Conference would review needs, accept pledges, and oversee the progress of reconstruction. Here as well, periodic high-level meetings of donor states would be supplemented by the creation of a small secretariat designed to ensure continuity of involvement in Afghanistan and to prepare for the high-level meetings. Again, the larger the number of states involved and the greater their interest in what happens in the region, the less the chance that any of the neighboring states could engage in mischief.

The internal dimension of an Afghan settlement is obviously no less crucial than the international aspect, and needs to be dealt with concurrently. The chief objective here is to ensure that Afghans are in fact free to decide for themselves the exact shape of their system and how they want to govern themselves. On this as on many other issues, the rhetoric has often been at variance with the reality.

This does not mean that the outside world must refrain from insisting on certain fundamental requirements, only that it should refrain from seeking to impose its own particular values. Thus, we must be unyielding on representative government but not on the particular Western form of it. Respect for human rights and internationally recognized standards also must be insisted upon. A serious concern among Afghan minorities is the protection of ethnic groups. While there clearly need to be safeguards on this subject, Afghans--especially those drafting a new constitution--must be brought to understand that protecting individual rights ensures group rights, while the opposite is not true.

Similarly, no compromise is possible on the participation in the new government of leaders guilty of gross crimes in the past. The Islamists Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, for example, must at all costs be excluded. They personify the dangers to Afghanistan from meddlesome neighbors, dependent as they are on Saudi and Pakistani funding.

At present, however, even more urgent than the founding principles of government is the issue of security. Its continuing lack within the country seriously endangers progress toward national reconstruction and even toward a stable and effective government.

The building of a national army will take time. Some have argued with passion that interim security can be provided by a major expansion of the international security force now limited to Kabul. A better, more economical and effective way to fulfill this interim security need would be to place small numbers of U.S. Special Forces in key towns, and increase further roving patrols. Afghans are very impressed with American power, methods, and presence, and have themselves said that small numbers of Americans have a big impact. Some have told me that even the overflight of an American bomber has a soothing effect.

The strategy suggested here is realistic and feasible. That does not mean there are no obstacles to overcome--of which Iran is probably the most conspicuous. The problem is not so much whether Tehran would be willing to join the proposed Concert of States. It is rather that Iran's active and open sponsorship of terrorist groups far and wide makes its adherence distasteful and its trustworthiness nil. The Iranian government must be confronted on these issues. Washington should make it clear that unless Tehran undertakes to change its behavior, it will not be included. The United States should point out that for a state that has a fairly large non-Iranian population within its borders it is particularly dangerous to encourage subversion in others. Two could play the same game. Last but not least, the establishment of the Concert of States without Iran would increase the regime's isolation and thereby further heighten incentives to alter its behavior.

In the final analysis, success in the war on terror, not just in Afghanistan but elsewhere as well, depends on an assertion of will, informed by a recognition that there is no such thing as risk-free foreign policy or national defense. A determined America--conveying to Afghanistan and the surrounding countries its steadfastness, while seeking their contribution within the context of a strategic framework clear to all--is far more likely to succeed than a reactive America secretly pining to go home.

Elie D. Krakowski is a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and at the American Foreign Policy Council, which recently published his monograph "Ending War in Afghanistan: The Opportunity Within Adversity."