Report Offers Policy Suggestions For Afghanistan
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
On the other side of the border, more American troops will be arriving soon in Afghanistan. President Obama has approved an additional 12,000 troops to fight the growing insurgency. They will arrive this spring and there will be more after that. The Pentagon has requested a total of as many as 30,000 service men and women over the next year.
Meantime, today, the United States Institute of Peace released some new policy recommendations for Afghanistan. Seth Jones of the RAND Corporation, is one of the co-authors. I asked him why he suggests a more bottom up strategy.
Doctor SETH JONES (RAND Corporation): One of the things that we've done is looked historically at what has worked in Afghanistan, in stabilizing the country. And when one looks, for example, at the 1933 to 1973 period, led by Zahir Shah(ph), you see a government that had control over urban areas of the country in some of the key lines of communication - major roads, for example.
But then in rural areas of the country, you had jirgas of tribal, sub-tribe clan quams that controlled areas. So we found historically is that success and stability in Afghanistan has historically been a combination of top down efforts, especially in urban areas, and bottom up in rural areas.
NORRIS: But there is this matter of trust. And if you're talking about this bottom up approach, don't you run the risk of undermining the sitting government?
Dr. JONES: Well, the important aspect, then, has to be a link between your central government and local elements. In August of 2007, President Karzai created an office specifically to deal with this, called the Independent Directorate for Local Governance. And the idea is to begin to connect the central government to legitimate local institutions.
NORRIS: And how is this complicated by the ethnic fiefdoms that you see throughout the country?
Dr. JONES: Well, what it means is that governance in Afghanistan - it goes back to a phrase Tip O'Neil used to describe politics, which is: All politics is local. So, what you see in, for example, in Pashtun, in parts of Afghanistan -in certain villages that may be controlled by a Popalza'i, or Acakza'i(ph), or a range of other tribes - in these areas they have local jirgas and shuras that will adjudicate matters within their villages and at the district level.
NORRIS: You're dealing with the lines of authority that are already there...
Prof. JONES: Yes, that's correct.
NORRIS: ... instead of trying to create new ones. Since so much of the problems in Afghanistan are so widespread, the strategy would seem to require many more troops, many more advisors, to work at the tribal level to gain that trust and to build some sort of security, how do you envision doing that without pouring hundreds of thousands more troops into Afghanistan?
Dr. JONES: Well, I would actually say it's quite the reverse. What we've seen historically is local elements can, A, protect themselves, and B, provide services into their areas. So, actually, I think this would require, if one can tap into local resources, it would require less international presence rather than more in some areas.
NORRIS: Seth, I want to ask you about corruption. As you point out in the study, it's a major problem for Afghanistan, and a major problem in establishing security. You don't give President Karzai very high marks on dealing with corruption in his own country.
How do you deal with that problem at the highest levels of government in Afghanistan?
Dr. JONES: What we're particularly concerned about, I think is very, very high levels of senior officials in the government involved in narcotics trafficking, or bribery and extortion of projects - development projects - that are happening in the country.
What it requires to deal with these kinds of individuals is, more than anything else, political will to arrest and try these individuals in a court in the middle of an insurgency. And when you add to that then the fact that President Karzai is actually in the midst of a presidential campaign, probably not a lot of incentives to start tackling the corruption issue at the moment.
But what we found of concern is that it appears the corruption is actually one of several factors that is driving the insurgency. People now feel alienated from the government because they believe that government officials are pocketing money and not looking out for local Afghan interests.
NORRIS: You were just in Afghanistan in November, and you noted that people in Afghanistan are losing faith in the central government. What do they think of the U.S. at this point?
Dr. JONES: Fairly significant numbers of Afghans, I think, still in retrospect are supportive of the overthrow of the Taliban regime. The Taliban remains unpopular, as do most of the insurgent groups. At the same time, support for the United States has decreased over the past several years, probably for a range of reasons - one of which is the civilian casualties that have occurred.
So I would say that the clock is ticking. The U.S. still has much greater levels of support than it did in Iraq, but those levels are decreasing.
NORRIS: Seth Jones, thanks for coming in to talk to us.
Dr. JONES: Thank you.
NORRIS: Seth Jones is a Middle East expert with the RAND Corporation. He's also the co-author of a study released today by the U.S. Institute of Peace.
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