Oklahoma City, Oklahoma


On Afghanistan: A Case for Reform

Before September 11, 2001, Afghanistan was not a well-known country. But in the weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, this country was moved to the forefront of the international stage. In the months and years following, the United States-led coalition invaded Afghanistan, and the world has watched in near real-time as forces have pushed back the Taliban’s hold on the country. Now well into the eleventh year of war operations, and eight years since the election of a president, Afghanistan’s future hangs in the balance. The question of security remains a top priority. A resurgence of the Taliban after the coalition takes its leave would erase a long fought war and the blood spilled in it. The goal is to leave the nation strong enough to achieve self-preservation long after the war.  In order to reach this, a strong economy must be realized.

In the following pages, this paper will explore the options that can be used to accomplish these goals. Though there are many theories whose options are numerous, this author has chosen to look at the options involving the theory of realism as it pertains to Afghanistan’s place and identity on the world stage and how to maintain its growing presence there. To begin, a definition and foundation on this theory will be presented.

Historically, realism has maintained a dominant theory over the centuries. Viotti explains that, “In terms of international relations, realists emphasize the struggle for power and influence among states, empires, and principalities. At a minimum, all such political entities seek security.” The alternative, however, is that some states pursue an agenda of conquest. (Viotti, 2009, page 89) Specifically looking at pre-invaded Afghanistan, its sovereign statehood had become overrun as the Taliban took a mob-like hold of the country; its identity and security were completely compromised; and its economy produced 90% of the world’s supply of opium. (BBC News Asia, 2012)  The realist theory has begun to be put in motion since the invasion as coalition forces secured a new government system and has begun making inroads towards a stronger state.

The strength of any state begins and ends with the security; all else grinds to a standstill if the issue of security is not fundamentally resolved. Threats – both foreign and domestic – should be evaluated, and steps to nullify them should be taken. In Afghanistan, the Taliban still poses the most imminent threat. After many decades of constant war in that region, there is little training available to teach those what are becoming police officials or soldiers. NATO has begun to fill this gap.

NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A) has begun to equip the Afghan National Security Forces (NASF) with the training needed to secure the infant nation. Though one of the greatest challenges of the Afghan operations, NATO has seen progress as it works with the NASF. From 2009 to 2011, it grew to over 305,000 with thousands of recruits signing up each month. NTM-A’s mission of self-perpetual security in Afghanistan has led to the founding of vocational schools. These schools specialize in such areas as engineering, logistics and intelligence. (McNamara, 2011)

Along with training enlisted personnel comes the task of educating and training officers in both the military as well as law enforcement. This is more time-consuming and difficult than training enlisted soldiers. It will fall to these officers as coalition forces withdraw to continue and maintain operations for the security of the nation. It is vital that NATO, United Nations, United States and coalition forces send highly trained and qualified instructors that can set a strong precedent by which to run the ANSF and Afghan National Army.

Today, the ANSF boasts 352,000 uniformed troops. Due to budget concerns, the ANSF will be reduced to 228,500 by 2017. Luke Coffey, a retired commissioned officer in the United Sates Army, and who later served the UK Ministry of Defense helping shape British defense policy, foresees an issue that could have a severe detrimental effect with the reduction. “There are no plans for what will happen to the 123,500 militarily trained young men who will need jobs when this reduction takes place. With Afghan unemployment estimated to be as high as 35 percent, the lack of opportunity for former members of the ANSF could draw them into the insurgency.” (Coffey, 2013) The decision to cut the size of the ANSF was based whole, on budget concerns and not the suspected security needs.

Yet, even with these cuts, the projected expense for the ANSF will reach $4.1 billion a year starting in 2017. This, compared to the United States, might seem miniscule. To grasp the brevity, it must be realized that in 2012, the Afghanistan revenue was 2.2 billion, and their current expenditures were over $3.9 billion. That is to say, before taking full responsibilities for the expenditures of the ANSF, the government is already over budget. (CIA – The World Fact Book, 2013) This poses concerns for viability of Afghan security forces. There needs to be a growing of the economy and legitimate trade to boost revenue in the nation. Ways to build the economy will be discussed later in this paper.

For the near future, the international community should commit to supplemental support in an effort to continue the stabilizing of a nation and region. The United States has pledged $2 billion over the next several years. But other nation’s “financial contributions have come up short. […] Other NATO members such as the U.K. (the world’s seventh-largest economy) and Germany (the world’s fourth-largest economy) have contributed only $110 million and $200 million, respectively. The international community is still short $1.8 billion for the years 2015–2017 for ANSF funding.” (Coffey, 2013)

History has shown that defunding a nation post-war can have disastrous consequences. When the USSR fell, it withdrew from Afghanistan and it ceased its funding. This left a weak government still dealing with in an unsettled region. In the aftermath, waves of rebellions swept through Afghanistan and in 1994 the Islamic clerics and students who had formed the Taliban movement had gained the strength to take over the rule of the nation. (Katzman, 2008, CRS 4-5)  Coalition nations and allies must realize that history is set to repeat itself if post-war policy does not give the funds needed to continue a stabilizing nation.

A strong security and a thriving economy go hand-in-hand. If the economy is struggling, a nation’s security will quickly dwindle. On the other side, if a nation is not secure, an economy will soon grind to a halt as fears of the future hang in the balance. Both are a vital part of any nation’s well being. War and strife have been Afghanistan’s majority gross domestic product for decades, with illicit opium exports close behind. As Afghanistan reenters the globalized economy, its choices now will set precedence for ongoing international trading.

To the realist, the economy is a large asset to any state. The greater amount of exports, the less dependent a nation is to other countries of the world which bolsters their security standing. In addition, a strong economy strengths a nation from within and raises poverty lines. As nations grow stronger, the ability to give grants and loans as capital for private companies within the nation gives private business owners reasons to succeed, thus creating larger job forces.

As with the lack of qualified trainers for military officers, there is an extreme lack for trade instructors and those who can teach strong business skills. This is a vital starting point for the Afghani people to begin building a strong, legitimate economy. Though an arid region, areas of Afghanistan can produce a thriving agricultural livelihood. Fruits, nuts, and wheat are some of the commodities that are exported yearly. (CIA – The World Fact Book, 2013) But the largest crop in the nation is opium.

Providing 90% of the world’s illicit opium, Afghani farmers run a thriving business. As a fairly easy-to-grow plant, the opium poppy not only fetches more than any legitimate crop, but one bush will produce for years at a time. It is not an easy task convincing farmers to switch from the lucrative opium crop to a harder-to-grow crop that fetches a lower market price.  After all, when this crop has been lucrative for generations of family business, why change? Though this author believes that in any known illicit activity should be stopped and those players should find a more legitimate form of work, in this case, education of alternative crops and trades should be taught to farmers and prospective business people.

Taking up the cause has been members of the United States’ National Guard. In 2010, Wisconsin, Kansas and Indiana formed units called the “Agribusiness Development Team.” Their mission was to instill lessons for agriculture and business to high schoolers. With over 60 subjects that span record management and financial management, these units provide lesson plans and training to the next generation of business and farm owners. (Kaffenberger, 2010) Drawing on the proven experience of teaching agribusiness in Central America, along with personal experience that these National Guard soldiers have had growing up in agriculture areas, they “assess local farming practices and environments to determine the best strategies to assist Afghan farmers.” (The National Guard, 2010)

No economy can thrive without a strong infrastructure.  The Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) based out of the United States Embassy is a combination of individuals consisting of civilian and military personnel dedicated in building a strong Afghani infrastructure. Assisting in building bridges for greater commerce in parts of the region has been one such project the PRT is being used for. Others include road development, building power plants and water sanitation facilities. (USAID, 2013)

Another such project is the furtherance of public health. With only 0.4 beds per 1000 people in Afghanistan, the public health needs its own reviving. Not only will this contribute to both the professional and technical job force, it will begin building a healthier, more productive Afghani citizen. In this fight, USAID is committed to meeting immediate healthcare needs such as providing pharmaceuticals to health facilities, training physicians nurses and midwives in quality care and increasing screening for deadly disease outbreaks.

As Afghan and international partners come together to accomplish these goals, the fire will be lit under the Afghan economy. Public health, infrastructure, and an increase in commodities and trade will begin to turn the wheels of the Afghan economy. As jobs become more plentiful, unemployment and poverty will begin to decrease and the economy will come to life. Coupled with national security, Afghanistan will be a strong, sustainable nation state. The last aspect of a strong nation this paper will discuss is the nation’s identity.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, as is its full name, is inwardly divided. Though 99% of the population is Muslim, there are two sects that do not mix well. The strong majority (80%) are Sunni Muslim. The other 19% consist of Shia Muslim. (CIA – The World Fact Book) The division began in the 7th Century, after the Prophet Mohamed died, over who should succeed him. Perhaps the longest blood feud since Isaac and Ishmael (fathers of the Jewish and Islam religions), it has cost much blood. Now, with both sects residing under one democratic government, the hope is that they can live in peace, and that bloody, terrorist-like clashes will fade into the past. This can be done as both parties come to the table for talks on how to best come to peaceful understandings. The use of United Nation’s diplomatic emissaries could help. These men and women can aid with talks and writing agreements that would end centuries of violence.

There are many aspects of human rights that could be addressed as part of the Afghani identity. Yet the one that will be addressed here is what pertains to the Sharia Law. No research showed that Sharia has been introduced into the Afghan constitution, but a concerning factor is that courts are allowed to draw from Sharia Law through jurisprudence. Because the atrocities of mutilation punishments, female circumcision, woman being treated as property, and woman only have 1/3 vote in legal matters, have begun to dissipate in some parts of the Islamic world, Afghanistan is in a strong position to set a precedent on such matters.  Both government and non-governmental originations (NGOs) can help achieve change on this front. The United Nations has joined forces with NGOs to call for human rights and women’s rights all over the world. As the Afghan government opens the doors to welcome such organizations, stronger inroads are possible to a better understanding of women’s rights.

Along with the above, and with the government setting the example, a cultural transformation must be reached to allow for other religious beliefs, and more specifically abandonment of those religions that are tied to violent extremist organizations. This should begin with removing clerics and imams that call for violence and the jihad. Zero-tolerance reforms should be enacted to discourage and punish terrorist activities or propaganda.  The NASF should be used in case of uprising of religious extremists.

Today, the Afghanistan government is a recognized general member of the United Nations. On February 21, 2013, in the ongoing effort to achieve a strong identity with the international community, Afghanistan unveiled its plan to reduce poverty and ensure social integration for persons with disabilities. In a statement at the United Nations, Mr. Zahir Faqiri said, “The Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is now in the process of reversing decades of economic and social decline… [A new law] been established to provide economic, social, political, cultural, educational, and rehabilitation support for the disabled (men, women and children) to ensure their rights and active participation in society.” (Zahir Faqiri, 2013)

This young form of the newest Afghanistan government has much work to do. Its strong leadership and resolve will go a long way in repairing the nation’s war torn state. The Afghani citizens must also show a willingness to renovate the nation. The amount of work needed cannot be accomplished without cooperation between the citizen, government, international coalitions, and non-governmental organizations. But if international teamwork can happen, the time, money and resources will be well spent: Afghanistan can become a positive international partner to not only fellow Middle Eastern nations, but to the western world and its neighbors to the east. As peace is established, its exports in the commodities that are grown and mined in the region can grow. Its export partners can multiply as productions are increased. Best of all, strong security (made possible by a thriving economy) can bring a measure of peace to the region that it has not experienced for a long time. And finally, Afghanistan’s k\new identity can be a beacon of change to other war torn regions in the Middle East to end violence, promote women’s rights, and acceptance of diverse religious beliefs.


BBC News Asia (2012, November 20). BBC News – Afghanistan opium harvest drops by a third – UN. BBC – Homepage. Retrieved March 1, 2013, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20407511

CIA – The World Fact Book (2013, February 12). CIA – The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved March 2, 2013, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/af.html

Coffey, L. (2013, February 22). Afghan National Security Force: U.S. Should Back a Robust ANSF. Conservative Policy Research and Analysis. Retrieved March 2, 2013, from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/02/afghan-national-security-force-us-should-back-a-robust-ansf

Kaffenberger, M. (2010, December 13). The Other War Front: Economic Development in Afghanistan | The Foundry: Conservative Policy News Blog from The Heritage Foundation. The Foundry: Conservative Policy News Blog from The Heritage Foundation |. Retrieved March 3, 2013, from http://blog.heritage.org/2010/12/13/the-other-war-front-economic-development-in-afghanistan/

Katzman, K. (2008, November 26). Afghanistan: Post-War Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy. DTIC Online. Retrieved March 2, 2013, from http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA490415

McNamara, S. (2011, June 16). NATO?s Solid Progress in Training Afghanistan?s Security Forces. Conservative Policy Research and Analysis. Retrieved March 2, 2013, from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/06/natos-solid-progress-in-training-afghanistans-security-forces

The National Guard (2010, July 12). The National Guard -Wisconsin Guard builds team to help Afghan farmers. The National Guard – Official Website of the National Guard. Retrieved from http://www.nationalguard.mil/news/archives/2010/07/071310-Wisconsin.aspx

USAID (2013, February). Expand and improve access to economic and social infrastructure | afghanistan.usaid.gov. Welcome to USAID/Afghanistan | afghanistan.usaid.gov. Retrieved from http://afghanistan.usaid.gov/en/programs/infrastructure#Tab=Description

Viotti. International Relations and World Politics, 4th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions. <vbk:0558415350#outline(6.3.1)>

Zahir Faqiri, A. (2013, February 21). Reducing poverty and ensuring social integration for persons with disabilities in Afghanistan | Afghanistan Mission to the UN in New York. Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations in NY. Retrieved March 3, 2013, from http://www.afghanistan-un.org/2013/02/reducing-poverty-and-ensuring-social-integration-for-persons-with-disabilities-in-afghanistan/

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