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Afghanistan on “Life Support” Warns Council Report

Related Bio: Barnett R. Rubin, New York University
April 10, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations

Stabilization and Reconstruction Overshadowed by Iraq

April 10, 2006—“Afghanistan has received inadequate resources in terms of both troops and funds; this is not the time to draw down the military presence or to reduce aid,” warns a new Council on Foreign Relations Special Report. “The world thus far has put Afghanistan on life support, rather than investing in a cure….Afghanistan has the potential to be a disastrous situation if intelligent, measured steps are not taken.”

Stabilization and reconstruction operations in Afghanistan have been overshadowed by developments in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, says the report, Afghanistan’s Uncertain Transition From Turmoil to Normalcy, by Afghanistan expert and New York University Professor Barnett R. Rubin. “After years of claiming that greater American and Afghan casualties are either signs of ‘desperation’ by foundering terrorists or the result of more aggressive U.S. tactics that are pushing opposition fighters out of their safe havens, the U.S. government has now admitted that the insurgency is growing and becoming more effective,” states the report.

While there have been achievements in Afghanistan since 2001, including the December 2001 Bonn Agreement that gave Afghanistan a constitutional framework and nascent political institutions, much hard work remains before these institutions can be considered mature.

The January 2006 Afghanistan Compact, which provides a roadmap for security, governance, and development over the next five years, reminds international actors that Afghanistan’s transition to normalcy is not at all assured and that strong international engagement and U.S. support are required to address remaining challenges

Stability and security in Afghanistan remain elusive says the report. The report notes a long list of challenges including:

  • “ An ever-more deadly insurgency with sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan, where leaders of al-Qaeda and the Taliban have found refuge.”
  • “A corrupt and ineffective administration without resources and a potentially dysfunctional parliament.”
  • “An economy and administration heavily influenced by drug traffickers…[as] the distribution of the proceeds of narcotics trafficking, not elections, largely determines who wields power in much of Afghanistan.”
  • “Levels of poverty, hunger, ill health, illiteracy, and gender inequality that put Afghanistan near the bottom of every global ranking….The country ranks approximately 173 out of 178 countries in the basic index of human development, effectively putting it in a tie for last place with a few African countries.”

“The Afghanistan Compact provides many elements of a plan for sustainable security, governance, and development,” says Rubin, but “the compact places responsibility for meeting these goals on the government of Afghanistan, which can easily be held accountable, and the ‘international community,’ which cannot be.” Thus, “all stakeholders should fully fund and implement the Afghanistan Compact and the Interim Afghanistan National Development Strategy.”

Additional recommendations elaborate on the following themes:

  • “Afghanistan can be stable and secure only if it is well integrated into its region, both economically and politically. Achieving this goal will require sustained efforts to deescalate and eventually resolve the country’s long-standing conflicts with Pakistan over relations with India, the border, ethnic issues, and transit trade, and to insulate Afghanistan from conflict relating to Iran.”
  • “None of the problems of this destitute, devastated country can be addressed effectively without sustained, equitable economic growth. In addition to security, this requires extensive investments in infrastructure, governance, and the justice system.”
  • “Economic growth also requires a policy of eliminating narcotics that does not impoverish people. There should be no short-term conditionality of aid on eliminating narcotics. Elimination of narcotics will take well over a decade, and crop eradication is a counterproductive way to start such a program. Foreign donors should support the Afghan government’s long-term plan and not impose their own programs.”
  • A stable and secure Afghanistan requires a legitimate and capable state. To ensure that international aid fulfills this objective, the United States and other major aid donors that have not done so already, notably Germany and Japan, should provide multiyear aid commitments and channel increasing amounts of aid through the government budget by mechanisms such as the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan, and the Counter-Narcotics Trust Fund for Afghanistan.”

Barnett R. Rubin is director of studies and senior fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, New York University. Rubin, founding director of the Council’s Center for Preventive Action, served as adviser to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, during the negotiations that produced the Bonn Agreement.

The Council’s Center for Preventive Action(CPA) seeks to prevent, defuse or resolve deadly conflicts around the world and to expand the body of knowledge on conflict prevention. It does so by creating a forum in which representatives of governments, international organizations, corporations, nongovernmental organizations, and civil society can gather to develop operational and timely strategies for promoting peace in specific conflict situations. CPA focuses on conflicts that affect U.S. interests, but may be otherwise overlooked; where prevention appears possible; and when the resources of the Council on Foreign Relations can make a difference.

Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that members, students, interested citizens, and government officials in the United States and other countries can better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments.


Contact: Anya Schmemann, DC Communications, 202-518-3419 or aschmemann@cfr.org

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