Afghanistan – Is Democracy the Solution Or Part of the Problem?

By admin ~ February 17th, 2012 @ 1:27 am

Having achieved the primary objective of the invasion, the elimination of Al-Qaeda, why is the conflict intensifying? The war against the resurgent Taliban – once supported by the US – is based on the assumption that if they are allowed to return to power Al-Qaeda will follow in their wake and the threat of international terrorism will escalate. In the current climate it is difficult to argue against this hypothesis but is the scenario inevitable?

The Taliban were initially welcomed as rulers of Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal and years of civil war but their strict Islamist doctrine soon led to a backlash. Having experienced the ruthlessness of a Taliban government it is highly likely that the majority of Afghans would strongly resist their return.

The idea that Afghanistan could, in future, be yet again a breeding ground for international terrorism is highly questionable. Why would they return? Al-Qaeda has proved that it can operate from almost any country in the world, displacement from Afghanistan has simply encouraged them to set up training camps elsewhere.

The coalition’s strategy, to defeat the Taliban and to install a democratic government in Kabul, seems over-simplistic ignoring several fundamental issues not least cultural differences. Western democracies have taken decades if not centuries to evolve yet the expectation is this can be achieved in Afghanistan virtually overnight. Why would a fragile democracy bring peace and stability to a mountainous, tribal country that has been at the crossroads of empirical and internal strife for two hundred years?

The campaign is confusing, it lacks vision, it lacks a sense of realism. It takes legitimacy from 9/11 and utilises fear to sustain support. Without a radical shift in policy winning the war and winning the peace will both remain unattainable goals. The US and its allies need to accept two basic tenets, the Taliban will not be defeated militarily and democracy in Afghanistan, if it can be delivered at all, will not be sustainable.

Counter-insurgency campaigns are always protracted and rarely, of themselves, bring about lasting solutions. The war in Afghanistan has the added dimension of jihadism, foreign fighters supporting the Taliban to rid an Islamic country from invaders. A peaceful solution can only be attained by utilising the existing tribal system, not by seeking to impose an alien concept. Although there are serious questions about the legitimacy of President Karzai’s election and concerns about his weak, corrupt government his declared intent to seek a dialogue with Taliban leaders through a ‘loya jirga’, a grand assembly of tribal leaders, is the right way forward.

Lessons need to be learned from Iraq – and from Vietnam. To some extent the invasion of Iraq has been tarnished by the fiasco over weapons of mass destruction but military action in Afghanistan has, thus far, retained credibility and international support. The US needs to accept that democracy is not a universal panacea that can be liberally exported around the globe. What works in Kansas doesn’t necessarily work in Kabul. It needs to curtail its arrogance and exercise some humility. Instead of continually telling occupied countries what they should be doing it’s time to start asking them how things should be done, to respect other religions and other cultures. This is a far better way of ensuring sustainability.

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