Why Stay the Course

Op-Ed Contributor
Published in New York Times


The recent elections in Afghanistan and General McChrystal’s strategic review have again raised questions, doubt and uncertainty about state-building in Afghanistan. These questions deserve to be answered, swiftly and clearly.

What do we have to show after fighting in Afghanistan for eight years?

Though the international engagement has lasted eight years, it only recently became a focused fight. The aid pledged to Afghanistan from 2002 to 2008 was less than a 12th of assessed needs. Troops were confined to Kabul until 2004; troop increases since then have been reactive and slow, allowing the Taliban to regroup in sanctuaries across the border.

The strategy unveiled by President Obama in March has yet to be fully implemented. The promised troops are not yet on the ground. Why should there be a change in output if there has been little change in input?

Why are we focusing on Afghanistan?

Because Afghanistan is in a unique nuclear-armed region that is also engaged in a precarious fight against terrorism. A premature withdrawal from Afghanistan could lead to a “Somalization” of Afghanistan that would leave Pakistan more vulnerable to the Taliban, exacerbate Pakistan-India tensions and threaten to pull the whole region down into violence.

Is Afghanistan too backward a country to ever progress?

Afghanistan has not always been at war with itself. In the 1960s and 70s and even into the 80s, female and male students studied together at universities in Kabul. Women voted and served in the government as ministers and members of Parliament.

George Will has written that being in the country is “like walking through the Old Testament.” This description only indicates the consequences of great-power struggles during the Cold War and the subsequent neglect that allowed the Taliban to gain power.

The devastation of the country is in fact the answer to another recent question: Why are we in Afghanistan? To finally shoulder the responsibility of rebuilding a country whose decimation we are all complicit in.

What is the end goal in Afghanistan?

In March, President Obama helped lay out our goal in clear words: to build a stable state that will prevent extremism and terrorist groups from taking root again. The audacity of this goal – a stable state – has led some to criticize it for lacking defined means and a clear conclusion. So here are some clear means: a strengthening of the Afghan army and police forces to 260,000 troops, enough to permit Afghan forces to secure the country without an international presence.

Have we not already met our goal?

Some claim Al Qaeda has been defeated in Afghanistan, so the mission has been accomplished. But Al Qaeda is merely lying in wait in Pakistan, a country whose border with Afghanistan is disputed and tenuous. A premature withdrawal will not only enable extremists to magnify their threat to Pakistan; it would also allow Al Qaeda to re-gaining Afghan territory as a base of operations.

Zahir Tanin is Afghanistan’s representative to the United Nations

Source: The New York Times

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