Success in Afghanistan is the establishment of a political order, security situation, and indigenous security force that is stable, viable, enduring, and able—with greatly reduced international support—to prevent Afghanistan from being a safe-haven for international terrorists. This objective is the most narrowly-constrained goal the United States and its allies could achieve in Afghanistan that would support their vital national security interests.
One year after President Barack Obama’s decision to adopt the current strategy and send additional resources to support it, there is reason to have confidence in that strategy even as there are continuing causes for concern.
The authors go on to provide analysis of where things stand today in Afghanistan – and Pakistan. They remain cautiously optimistic:
Success … requires direct efforts to improve Afghan governance. This is not mission-creep. The objective of improving Afghan governance is strictly required to obtain a stable political order that can survive the withdrawal of international forces. That objective is a core part of President Obama’s oft-repeated goal of preventing Afghanistan from once again degenerating into a safe-haven for al Qaeda and affiliated transnational terrorist and insurgent groups.
Improvements to Afghan governance will come through greater local participation in representative institutions in the Pashtun areas. This is not a foreign, ideological drive to “democratize” Afghanistan, but rather a recognition that local representative institutions are the foundation of Pashtun tribal culture. America and its allies should not aim—and are not aiming—to remake Afghanistan in their image or according to their ideals. Afghanistan must be built to suit Afghans, and that is the course on which American and international efforts are embarked today.
Political progress will take even longer to achieve and to gauge than security progress. The government will have to demonstrate increased willingness to stop and punish egregious corruption and abuse of power that increase passive support for the insurgency, to curtail practices that favor some groups at the expense of others, and to establish working relationships with local representative bodies in insurgent- prone areas. The gradual extension of the government’s legitimacy will stem from the rebalancing of the central government with local interests, community by community, as local representative bodies obtain compromises from the central government and reach accords with their executive officials from Kabul.