Today, I attended a hearing on Capitol Hill hosted by the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that focused on viable strategies on Afghanistan. It was entitled: Perspectives on Reconcilation Options in Afghanistan.
Panelists included former Ambassador to Pakistan, Ryan Crocker, Zainab Salbi of Women for Women International, and Dr. David Kilcullen of the Center for a New American Security. All were very knowledgeable and experienced, offering their unique perspectives on what should be done to create a stable Afghanistan.
The source of strife in Afghanistan was discussed among the panelists. All generally agreed that the Taliban is not the only source of instability. Along with the Taliban, government corruption and a lack of economic development are factors that contribute to the creation of a breeding ground for insurgency. Due to such a cycle of instability, Dr. Kilcullen emphasized that efforts in Afghanistan should not only focus on counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism, but also on stability efforts.
Because of the many factors contributing to instability, the panelists generally agreed that a solution to conflict in Afghanistan cannot be merely military in nature. A political solution is needed, one that focuses on empowering civilians and reforming the government.
Security of civilians must be ensured, and the only way to do so is to have a more capable and less corrupt government. Unless a credible and legitimate government that is capable of ensuring law and order is established in Afghanistan, the Taliban will keep resurfacing.
Basic rights and access to economic resources are also crucial to achieving stability, as Zainab Salbi stressed. She argued that if Afghans, especially women, have access to jobs and education, they would not pay heed to the Taliban. In addition, she argued that Afghans also desire an end to human rights abuses, as well as access to justice. The reason the Taliban has leverage is because it offers the people financial support and protection, in exchange for patronage. When another source of support emerges, the people will no longer have to rely on the Taliban.
However, such stability efforts are long-term goals, and may take 12-15 years. As the U.S. is seeking to withdraw troops in July of 2011, a more immediate solution is desired. Amb. Crocker discussed the idea of negotiating, from a position of strength, with all interested parties. He commented on the international dimension of the instability in Afghanistan and the need to engage other countries that have an interest in the stability of Afghanistan, such as Pakistan. He believes the partnership with Pakistan needs to continue for the sake of security efforts.
And with Afghanistan becoming more nebulous and the insurgency continuing, members of the committee voiced their concerns about U.S. involvement in the issue. A worried Chairman Senator Kerry asked the panel why Afghans, if they do not like the Taliban, could not fight the Taliban themselves. The bottom-line answer from the panelists was that in order to quell the Taliban, Afghans need support to become powerful enough to counter the Taliban. While the Afghans may not like the Taliban, they prefer anyone who can offer them stability.