Speakers examine security issues in Afghanistan

Program News | Posted Aug 2, 2007

John Meyers

Issue date: 2/8/07 Section: News

Last night a group of students gathered in Barnum for a discussion panel entitled "Security in Afghanistan: An Examination of Current Dilemmas to Securing Peace and Stability in Afghanistan."

"Afghanistan is a particularly relevant topic [considering] the surge in suicide bombing and the fact that most of the national debate seems to be [about] Iraq and not Afghanistan," sophomore and member of The Alliance Linking Leaders in Education and the Services (ALLIES) Jesse Sloman said.

The first panelist, retired Lieutenant General David Barno, spent 19 months, starting in October 2003, commanding over 20,000 troops.

He explained that U.S. policy has been giving Afghanis the perception that the United States has not maintained an adequate level of interest in their country.

"When the U.S. announced NATO would take over and the U.S. would begin withdrawing, the U.S. inadvertently sent the message that it was disengaging," he said. This then led to an increase in violence, especially suicide bombing.

He told the audience that he has repeatedly heard Afghan citizens say their greatest fear is another American withdrawal from their country.

Currently, he said that Afghanis are fighting several internal wars, compounded by what he calls the "hourglass problem," a situation in which aid money cannot be spent efficiently because of a lack of managerial capacity.

In order to improve the situation, he recommended the extension of central government beyond the capital of Kabul. "Afghanistan is a strong nation, but a weak state," he said.

Currently, without such expansion, he said that the country is composed of a variety of unstable microstates.

Ali A. Jalali spoke next. Formerly the interior minister of Afghanistan, he currently serves as a distinguished professor for the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies and as a researcher for the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University.

While interior minister, he was involved in the creation and training of a number of Afghani police units.

During his remarks he lamented the failure of the international community to form a "unified vision" for Afghanistan.

He drew on his experience in Afghanistan both in an official capacity and as a citizen of the country, providing several personal anecdotes into the current dilemmas. He mentioned several critical mistakes in the international plan such as the inability to foresee the rise of the drug economy and the resurgence of the Taliban.

According to the 2006 World Drug Report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan produced 4,100 metric tons of opium in 2005.

Production levels have always been high in the country, with the exception of 2001 when, following the U.S.-led invasion, production dropped to just 185 metric tons. This was not a long-term reduction, however, as 2002 saw a skyrocket of opium to pre-war levels, with Afghanistan producing 3,400 metric tons.

A major underlying problem in the country, Jalali said, has been the inability to build an appropriate infrastructure.

This failure, he said, is evident in the current insurgency. The fighters that have recently gained ground in southern Afghanistan are "disenchanted, estranged" citizens rather than ideological zealots, he said.

This disillusionment is a result of "bad governance, the absence of services, and the mistreatment of local communities," he said.

He then outlined several things that need to happen for the country to have a successful future.

First, he said the complex, interlinked problems of Afghanistan need integrated solutions. An approach must be comprehensive if it is to be successful. Critical to this is a strong counter-narcotics force, he said.

The solution, he said, must also be a regional one, incorporating Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Kashmir. It must also provide for long-term success. In this process, the United States must recognize that while the military cannot solve the current situation on its own, a bad military strategy can be the sole cause of defeat.

A question and answer session ensued, during which Barno called for a strong approach in an effort to stanch the flow of drugs, while Jalali warned that measures that are too harsh would alienate the population.

ALLIES and the Institute for Global Leadership sponsored the event.

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