- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

As we and our international partners strive to secure Afghanistan, three misperceptions about corruption, narcotics and popular support for international presence have gained currency in certain capitals of our nation-partners.

A reality check against each misperception propagated by the media is necessary to help us build upon our shared achievements thus far and to work together toward overcoming the challenges we face today. Failure to do so is certain to strengthen our common enemies - the Taliban and al Qaeda - in further destabilizing Afghanistan and the whole region.

• Corruption is not a cause but a symptom of weak governance due to severe underinvestment both in capacity and resources in Afghanistan’s key state institutions over the last eight years. Because the judiciary and the police constitute the first point of contact between public and government, people tend to judge the government’s legitimacy and performance based on their daily experience with those institutions.

When the international community re-engaged in Afghanistan in 2001, the country was completely stateless, and our partners had to begin building the state institutions from the ground up under harsh circumstances. Hence, the strength or weakness of governance in Afghanistan today is clearly a function of how much effective, coordinated aid has gone into building a functional state in the country.

For example, it is apparent from the meager level of resources committed so far to reforming and building the Afghan judiciary and police that corruption prevails in these two key state institutions today. It is obvious that better-paid, better-trained and better-equipped officials in any government in any part of the world would have less incentive to be corrupt - and Afghanistan is no different from others.

Nonetheless, the Afghan government has frequently taken serious action against corrupt officials and introduced drastic measures to curb corruption in the whole government. Several inept ministers and more than a dozen corrupt administrators, governors, police chiefs and diplomats have been fired.

The Afghan government recently appointed a new interior minister to accelerate the reform and building of the police, while establishing the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption to fight systemic governmental corruption that is at the heart of the problem.

• Generalizing Afghanistan as a “narco-state” is misleading and diverts our attention from how to fight narcotics as a transnational security threat rather than as an Afghan problem alone. The fact is that since 2001 Afghanistan’s share of licit economy has outstripped that of its illicit, which is now less than a third of our annual gross domestic product. But we know from international experience that global demand for narcotics finds supply in environments where state institutions are weak, where general instability is high, and where poverty is rife. Although Afghanistan is in such a dire situation today, the number of drug-free provinces in the country has increased from six in 2006 to 18 in 2008. This means no opium is grown in more than half of the country’s 34 provinces. This progress has been made in provinces where the government has been in firm control, delivering alternative assistance to farmers and prosecuting drug traffickers.

To be effective, counter-narcotics efforts must target all players in the long chain of the opium trade, including traffickers, distributors and dealers, who pull in about 80 percent of the export value of Afghan narcotics. We need proactive international cooperation to implement the United Nations Security Council resolution 1818 of July 2008 to curb the flow of precursor chemicals into Afghanistan and export of narcotic products out of our country to the end markets through neighboring states.

At the same time, farmers must have the opportunity and resources to grow alternative crops. To make these crops more lucrative, investments in infrastructure are needed. In addition to water, seed and fertilizer, farmers must have access to reliable farm-to-market roads or to cold-storage facilities to preserve products for later export.

• Finally, there are frequent and absolutely incorrect references to Afghanistan as a “graveyard of empires,” where democratic nation-building is impossible. A monthlong stay among the Afghan people will reveal to any serious observer that the hardships and suffering the Afghan people have endured during the last 30 years have changed their worldview. The youth who constitute more than 60 percent of the Afghan population look to the future in today’s globalized context.

Afghans demand security, justice and pluralism, which they know can only be restored by long-term international engagement. We understand that premature international disengagement from Afghanistan in the early 1990s made the country a no-man’s land where transnational extremists, terrorists and criminals freely roamed and used the stateless country to endanger international peace and security. The tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, is a sad reminder.

Hence, irrelevant comparisons such as premodern wars or the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to the 2001 international re-engagement to free Afghans of the tyranny of the Taliban are neither accurate nor helpful.

Afghans view American and NATO forces as their liberators, while they perceived the Soviet forces as invaders and occupiers with a godless ideology.

Historical comparisons often no longer hold true, and they do not in Afghanistan. We should rather focus on delivering on the basic expectations of the Afghan people: security, rule of law and jobs - expectations that have given them hope after 2001.

M. Ashraf Haidari is the political counselor of the Embassy of Afghanistan.

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