In a state of affairs objects fit into one another like links of a chain.

Ludwig Wittgenstein


Afghanistan has been in turmoil for decades now, since its independence Afghanistan’s government legitimacy has been challenged by the actors from within the country supported by actors from the outside – there were several groups that begun insurgency separately but most of them became part of a major movement over the years. During British rule in Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan was overshadowed by British Empire, after WW2, Soviet Union became the dominant external actor and invaded Afghanistan in 1979. After Soviet Union fell, Afghanistan fell into civil war and Taliban emerged as key political and military force – supported by U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan during 1980’s and after the civil war supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. After 9/11, U.S. forces and later ISAF led by NATO invaded Afghanistan and are still present in the country. Due to continuous war and violence, Afghanistan’s has become one of most insecure, least development, corrupt and fragile nation across the globe. Over the course of last decade, several major initiatives have been launched to stabilize Afghanistan, but the country’s future looks extremely uncertain. It is asserted in the paper, that Afghanistan would require decades of serious effort from both international and domestic actors before it can be moderately stabilized – economically, politically, and socially           


Delineation of Research Methodology

The methodology that is being employed to assess and examine the issues and propose a viable and realistic strategy – both short-term and long-term – is COIN (counterinsurgency strategy). The central reason for application of this strategy – even with its short-falls – is that it takes into consideration other variables that effect the strategic environment; the central elements of COIN strategy are ‘clearing, holding, building and transition’. Overall, it is proposed in the paper, that Afghanistan is currently between phase 2 (holding) and phase three (building) and the strategy outlined is constructed on this presupposition. Moreover, the strategy outlined here has three layers of analysis. The first, and the most crucial layer includes, the goals and ambitions of both domestic and international actors for the country in the broadest sense possible and a broad outline of ways to achieve those goals – this part of the strategy is long-term and temporally would require above ten years. The second layer focuses on issues and actors more specifically and associates, issues with actors. Overall, actors are divided into several categories, the first category is domestic actors, the second category is international actors involved in the country – ISAF and U.S. – while the third category includes other international actors – neighbours and actors generally directly or indirectly involved in Afghanistan (but not militarily) – while the last category includes NGO’s, MNC’s, and international institutions involved in the country. This layer temporally would require at least five years and then a reassessment. The last layer focuses on small and mid-level projects – development, security and governance related – and the strategies required to successfully complete, those projects; this layer temporally requires one to two years. The main focus of the strategy is to move Afghanistan toward the transition phase in more constructive and comprehensive manner. 


Assessment of the Major Issues

The issues in Afghanistan’s are divided into four broad categories: Security, economic development, political and ethnic dynamics and lastly human development and security. The major issues selected here are based upon perceptions of both domestic and international actors. To elaborate on this assumption, according to several surveys conducted by The Asia Foundation and other organizations involved in the country, security, inflation, unemployment and governance were outlined as major issues – regardless of which region the individual came from – while security, unemployment, economic development and governance are major issues according to the several international actors involved as well like World Bank and UN.

  1. Security

            The issue of security is central to Afghanistan future, according to the evidence available; it can be proposed that the security situation is extremely fragile. Over the course of few years, there has been an increase in Taliban activity[1] in the country and ISIS has taken hold of regions around Jalalabad as well – since early 2015 – while Haqqani network and Al-Qaeda are still active in the country at a minor level. Moreover, the threat level in southern and eastern regions is still between high and substantial, while in regions in the north and west it is between substantial and moderate. Moreover, due to continuous violence, civilian casualties – injuries and deaths – have risen steadily since 2009 as well.[2]


  1. Economic Development

Afghanistan GDP has been rising since 2002; however, there are several structural problems – crisis in the system – that are hindering economic progress. The first major issue is ‘narcotics economy’, according to the data by UN and World Bank, contribution of formal economy to GDP is below 30% - rest comes from informal economy that is highly dependent on narcotics cultivation and production. Additionally, in the formal economy, the financing gap between revenue and expenditures are almost double and because of that there is an extreme reliance on aid for basic government expenditures. Furthermore, the financial structures set up by international actors are in extremely fragile state and had no substantial effect on functioning of the markets. Moreover, Afghanistan is already on the brink of recession and is most vulnerable to external shocks – like food shocks.


  1. Political and Ethnic Dynamics

When first elections were held in Afghanistan in 2002, people in the country had high hopes for Afghanistan. However, by far, political elite has terribly failed to deliver on their promises. According to several surveys, more than 50% of the population believes that country is going in the wrong direction. Moreover, according to World Bank, since 2004, government effectiveness has significantly decreased. Additionally, in terms of regulation, voice and accountability, political stability, government has a rating of below 10 out of 100. Furthermore, average bribe by a professional is minimum 25%, while in the capital and regions around Kabul; the corruption rate is almost 100%. Also, ethnic tension among the political elite has further halted the evolution of the political process.


  1. Human Development and Security

Even though most of the aid is spent on security and military activities, there has been minor development in human security in Afghanistan. However, several major problems still remain; the first major problem is food security – less than 50% have secure access to food and water – the second major problem is poverty – 36% of the population is living in poverty according to estimates based on income, however from a multidimensional scale more than 60% are living in poverty – additionally, mass urbanization and rise of internally displaced person has led to rise of slums – almost 70% of the population lives in informal housing or Kuchi housing. Overall, high youth unemployment, lack of opportunities in private sector, increase in population, and lack of quality education are further increasing food insecurity and poverty – especially in the urban regions of the country.


Networking Strategy: Three Layer Analysis

To reiterate, what was asserted in the methodology, the major strategy is divided into three layers – core layer (first layer), secondary layer (second layer) and technical layer (third layer). Moreover, the analysis will be on the issues that were discussed above and the focal point of each layer would be to address those issues in a realistic and constructive manner.


  1. Core Layer Analysis

The central goal of the core analysis is to outline major goals and ways to achieve those goals in the broadest sense possible. Overall, few of the major goals that can be outlined (in a realistic manner) for the next decade include, 1) negotiations with Taliban and some form of political settlement – though ideological disparities between the group with remain and would take more time, 2) decrease in poverty, 5-10% 3) increase in housing facilities – decrease in slums (from 85% in Urban region to 65%-70%), 4) Countering ISIS – joint US and Afghanistan Government effort, 5) improving the infrastructure and increasing the share of formal economy in GDP – at least 10%-15% 6) decreasing rate of corruption – at least 10%-15% 7) increasing employment opportunities – facilitating investors in key regions and creation of more jobs in private sector 8) increasing quality and quantity of Afghan forces and 9) improving quality of health and education.

The main ways through which these goals can be achieved – broadly not specifically – include, 1) involvement of Pakistan, India, and Iran in the peace negotiation process, with support of ISAF and U.S. and granting Taliban the right to participate in general election and the political process. 2) To decrease poverty and increase upward mobility, there should be an increase in pro-poor programs by international actors and several programs targeting several aspects of poverty should be launched – loans, subsidies, skills training, income-support, food supplies, health and education facilities etc. 3) To increase housing facilities, government with the support of international actors should increase investment in rural areas, moreover, they should increase house financing opportunities by establishing more efficient financial institutions and should provide subsidies on building material. 4) ISIS is currently being dismantled within the Syrian and Iraqi territories/regions and is shifting to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Africa. An effort on this stage in these regions can prove fruitful. 5) The increase in GDP share of formal economy is dependent on infrastructure, storage facilities – agricultural products – industrial and service sector and export-support programs by government with commitment from the allies – access to EU and US markets. 6) Corruption has been the major reason behind low development in each sector. To counter corruption structurally – anti-bribe policies and legislation, funding of criminal laws enforcement, and other initiatives – tribal and motivational factors should be taken into consideration. 7) The increase in employment is dependent on investment which is invariably dependent on security and government policies – Afghan government has to take initiative with support of actors like U.S., China, Pakistan and India to improve its cooperation in trade. 8) Quality of Afghan forces is essential for the success of any counterinsurgency strategy – few main areas that require more focus are increase in wages, improvement in training, motivation facilitated structurally etc. and 9) Health facilities are dependent on better doctors and better hospitals – availability of major facilities – while education is dependent on better curriculum, trained and qualified teachers and materially secure environment.



  1. Secondary Layer Analysis

The secondary layer analysis focuses more in depth on the assumptions that were raised in the core layer and assesses the dynamics and problems at a deeper level. The first and most central problem is issue of security and within security as was mentioned above, containing Taliban insurgency and moving toward a political solution. Several problems are present at the surface level that needs to be resolved before actors – India, Pakistan and others – are involved in the process. The first major issue among the ground troops is information networking and collaboration – which is seen as a trade-off with the security protocols and information assurance. Few steps that are proposed to improve collaboration are, 1) increasing interaction of the command on the ground and introducing job rotation for two to three month in the beginning – few member of the command and lower ranks on the ground under ISAF and U.S. would have to work for the other command for few months. 2) Improving and facilitating academic interaction. Overall, this would lead to better understanding among them and increase trust, while several structural changes within the IA and security protocol are required as well. Additionally, increase in information sharing will increase the success of military and development missions and will also facilitate integration – not complete – of policies and strategies required to achieve goals.  Another major issues concerning Taliban is Pakistan and India proxy wars and the rivalry – this requires more serious effort on part of both government over the years.

In terms of human and material development, the first problem is tackling statistical prevarication and falsification by NGO’s and aid agencies in Afghanistan who are exaggerating the claims of progress so that progress can be assessed in a realistic manner. Additionally, more focused PRT’s team with specific programs in different region and possibly different implementation strategy if necessary – however, this paper proposes continuation of Turkish strategy that involves and includes the society in the reconstruction process. Moreover, introduction of three to five years development goals that takes into account the goals stated in the core analysis – evaluation of progress every year.

Finally, the political and legal problems require more serious effort. Few of the solutions proposed is exchange of academics and students (scholarships and fellowships as well) – Afghan Scholars and students travelling to universities in Pakistan, Turkey, EU, US, Middle East and India which will eventually lead to development and advancement of a unique intellectual and political discourse from Afghanistan’s point of view; effectively creating over the years a cultural hegemony. Moreover, increase in education is essential with better laws to counter corruption in the short-term.


  1. Technical Layer Analysis

            The technical layer deals with issues at a more regional and local level and the central goal is to assist in achievement of goals stated in the core and secondary layer analysis. Few of the major efforts that are being promulgated include, introduction of local libraries, community center’s, local postal system, devolution of power through local communities – local Jirga’s – to counter corruption. Moreover, utilization of facilities like mosque for education and introduction of labour programs for local population – development of roads, canal system etc. Additionally, peace negotiation at local level through mediation – facilitated by local actors – and through establishment of arbitrary courts – civil courts in different districts.     


[1] Taliban have strong support – while some areas are under direct control of Taliban – in regions like Farah, in north of Helmand and Kandahar, and in several regions in the north – Badakhshan, Takhar, Baghlan, Jowzjan and few other as well. Moreover, a major division has occurred among Taliban in the north and south which has led to increase in internal struggle going on within Taliban in southern regions – Zabul – as well, overall affecting the local population by increased uncertainty.


[2] Almost 80% of civilian death and injuries are caused by anti-government actors, while 10%-12% are caused by government actors. Refer to Council on Foreign Relations, 2015 and Cordesman, Afghanistan and "Failed State Wars": The Need for a Realistic Transition, 2015., for more detail on the subject.


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Tags: Afghanistan, Peace, Process, Stability, Taliban


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Comment by William Tarpai on April 25, 2017 at 10:25pm

This is a good paper as it relates to 'military speak', and allow me to underline costly options.  

A senior Afghan official told me in Tampa several years ago, that employing Afghan youth was very critical to achieving peace.

Is it possible to change the dynamics to allow more citizen engagement and involvement in their own development at grass roots levels?  Local populations, including outside of the big cities, need to become active stakeholders in their own development.  

With so many educated, recent Afghan college grads, as well as tech savvy users of cell phones and computers, draw down of considerable amounts of high paid, military support international staff in favor of civilian peace-builders (especially locals) could reduce costs, and help generate local entrepreneurial activities that utilizes, and expands to local areas access to the internet and cell phone technologies. 

A World Bank's inspection panel released lessons from its bank projects. One of their messages is that bank staffers should rely less on documents and computer models and more on their own observations of what is actually happening at — and around — a project site.

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