The Obama Presidency provides a second chance to get Afghanistan right. The President-elect has made it clear a stable Afghanistan is his priority. That stability will only come when Afghanistan can govern itself. To reach that point, three key assets must be harnessed: first, American forces and resources; second, the instruments of national and international power; and third and most crucially, the Afghan people, who are as eager to see the restoration of order and justice.
The current impetus for a new perspective in US interventions comes from the military, in the form of the new counter-insurgency doctrine. Building on lessons learned by the British in Malaysia and the French in Algeria in the 1950s and 1960s, a group of thinkers organised by General Petraeus in the US have formulated the thesis that the struggle for the people is the central issue in any counter-insurgency campaign. While 20 per cent of the campaign might centre on use of force, 80 per cent depends on political and economic efforts. Under this doctrine, the definition of partners rests on the litmus test of dedication to the people. The incoming administration must translate this doctrine into a focused strategy for Afghanistan. This will require a fresh look at the polity, the economy, and foreign aid.
Afghanistan's first chance was in 2001, when the UN General Assembly and the Security Council resolved to create a legitimate government in Afghanistan. At that time, Afghans were united in requesting the deployment of forces to liberate and protect them and looked to the international community to solve 20 years of conflict. This open moment was squandered by a double failure: the Afghan political elite could not overcome their differences to become founding fathers of a nation; and international actors were fragmented and unable to build legitimate institutions. This created space for criminalisation of the economy, which fuelled the insurgency and corroded public sector integrity. Afghanistan has slipped 60 places in Transparency International's global corruption index.
The spread of corruption and bad governance imposes injustices, and often daily hardships, on ordinary Afghans, whose hopes for better lives are frustrated by the lack of services. These citizens want their current and future governments to be accountable.
Containing the threat of narcotics to the region and the world requires a bold economic approach. The break point between illegal and legal economies is a legal income of $4 per capita per day. In order to reach this threshold in Afghanistan, three major sectors of the economy must be revitalised: mining, agriculture, and services. Afghanistan is rich in minerals including copper, iron, marble, chromite, manganese and emeralds. With good governance in place, these assets can generate funds. Connecting farmers to markets through careful investment, organisation and infrastructure would provide livelihoods in rural areas. In urban areas, a fresh approach to municipal governance could mobilise the service industry, particularly construction, to create jobs. If Europe wanted to do more, a package of trade and enterprise partnerships could be as significant as any commitment of troops. And in the medium and long term, the most effective investment of all will be education and vocational training programs for the rising generations. Used for this purpose, one month of current military expenditures could change the life opportunities of five generations of Afghans.
The instruments currently used by the international community in Afghanistan, however, are part of the problem. The system can be made effective and efficient by eliminating the tens of thousands of scattered efforts, which create waste and parallel structures, and instead unifying foreign aid behind the single instrument of the Afghan national budget. The government and its international partners should delineate a set of objectives to deliver a dividend to the population and establish clear rules for accountability and transparency, including the creation of joint decision-making committees that bring international figures together with Afghan civil society and business oversight. This kind of partnership will require a new design for the use of aid, by a group similar to that which designed the Marshall Plan.
The present crisis was not inevitable, but rather the result of avoidable missteps. The Afghan population is still waiting, still hoping for an approach to answer their aspirations for a stable and just order. With that hope as its foundation, the right approach can bring Afghanistan to true stability.
Ashraf Ghani was Afghan finance minister 2002-2004, is the author of Fixing Failed States, and is chairman of the Institute for State Effectiveness: effectivestates.org