Friday, October 30, 2009

Constructing Afghan Society

Practical solutions for building civil society in Afghanistan do exist. The key is to get over the addiction to brute force and think about it.

I recently offered three principles to guide our thinking about Afghanistan, principles taboo in the mental box called official Washington. The goal of these principles is to win via civic action designed to create a healthy Afghan society (not a new colony for the Empire). What follows is a set of specific proposals that speak directly to the challenging task of implementation.

1. A White House Initiative to Empower NGOs:

Bring to the White House the international organizations who know Afghanistan well because they have been there so long — such as World Vision, Mercy Corps, Catholic Relief Services, Oxfam, Tearfund, Christian Aid, Church World Service — and many others. Ask them what U.S. policy would best work, and what kind of security they would need to really do the kind of development in Afghanistan that is most needed.

Let the non-military strategies lead the way, rather than the other way around, which often just makes aid and development work another weapon of war; but then provide the security needed for that work, and make it as international as possible. Also bring in some of the religious and other nonprofit leaders from the Obama Advisory Council and others, to focus on the deeply ethical and moral issues that are at stake in our decisions about future policy in Afghanistan — legitimately protecting Americans from further terrorism, defending women from the Taliban, developing a diplomatic surge, genuinely supporting democracy, and saving innocent lives from the collateral damage of war — to name a few.

2. Raise Saffron, Not Poppies. A second idea, directed at combating the crucial opium trade, is to encourage farmers to turn to saffron. This might provoke attacks by the Taliban, but that would only serve to expose their lack of concern for the Afghan people. It also might provoke attacks by the narco-state bureaucracy, which could possibly be countered by increasing the already-evident tendency of the U.S. to deal directly with local authorities..

3. Target Heroin Labs. ...and not just those under the control of "insurgents." I wonder what would happen if the criminal gangs exporting heroin began to get the idea that merely standing near a heroin lab might be dangerous to their health? A major obstacle to accomplishing this is the high proportion of the Afghan narcotics trade that is under the control of the Afghan regime. According to a Russian report on recent comments by Viktor Ivanov, director of the Russian Federal Drugs Control Service:

The most modern and the best equipped laboratories processing opium poppy into heroin are located in the northern provinces of Afghanistan near the Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek borders, which are areas of influence of the Northern Alliance.

The real threat comes from drug bosses operating in the north of Afghanistan, "and the coalition forces are not conducting an effective fight against them." [Thanks to the Human Security Report Project's Afghan Security News at Simon Fraser University for bringing attention to this report.]

4. Pay Afghan Security Forces a Living Wage. Those willing to undertake the incredibly dangerous career of being a member of the Afghan security forces (which someday are theoretically supposed to replace the U.S. military) are now paid only about half what it costs to raise a family. Is that the way to keep your police force honest? [Thanks to the Human Security Report Project's Afghan Security News at Simon Fraser University for bringing attention to this report.]

If you think about it, which Washington officials enamored of grandiose plans for military bases and pipelines don’t, solutions are possible.

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