Amidst the growing disapproval in Washington circles about the war in Afghanistan, Ahmed Rashid stands athwart history, yelling “Stop” (yes, that is a reference to Bill Buckley). On Sunday, the Washington Post published an Op-Ed by the renowned Pakistani journalist, who has spent decades covering Afghanistan and wrote a comprehensive account of the 2001 invasion in Descent Into Chaos. The book is a magnificent read for anyone interested in how post-invasion Afghanistan was mismanaged and neglected by the Bush administration. It also provides an insight into the complex ethnic, tribal, national and international politics influencing the country.

Rashid’s chief argument is that success in Afghanistan can be achieved. He makes a sensible case for success not by outlining any innovative or drastic policies but by redefining success itself. The piece opens up as he reminisces about Afghanistan before the Soviet Union, about how it was a minimalist yet functioning state. This, he declares, should be the goal in Afghanistan.

He was far more optimistic at the beginning of the war but his optimism shed quickly–as this did that of many–as the Bush administration neglected reconstruction in Afghanistan, distracted by the invasion of Iraq. Rashid calls for “two or three more years” of occupation to build the basic foundations of a subsistence economy and minimalist government in Kabul.

This solution, in my opinion, is far more favourable than the decades long enterprise often discussed by US Defense Department officials.

Rashid ultimately shares the skepticism of the “dissenters” (including myself) about Pakistan’s willingness to tackle the Afghan Taliban operating within its territory, which is a prerequisite for viable peace in Afghanistan. He calls for a coherent regional strategy to balance Pakistani and Indian interests–a solution argued elsewhere in this blog. Moreover, Rashid believes that the only way to maintain some semblance of legitimacy for US troop presence is to create a truly national Afghan government in Kabul, one composed of not just Karzai but his opponents too. Though, the prospects of any Afghan government openly cooperating with an American military presence grow bleaker by the day as the collateral damage of NATO’s occupation turns public opinion vehemently against it.

Advertisements