Friday, October 16, 2009

Fireside Chat #2: Rethinking Afghanistan

The big question's heating up newspaper headlines again - Afghanistan. The issue is getting more chaotic than ever with articles screaming, forums ranting and newsreaders showing visual clips on the political and military scene in the country that's almost synonymous with war and oppression.

Amidst this smoke, we stopped to take a breath and evaluate the true nature of the issue. Is it really about how many more troops we need in Afghanistan? Can the continued war really end in peace or just prolong the potential of insurgencies in the state? The Benchmark system, Beefing up the military forces, branching out such military action into neighboring states including Pakistan - is this reaching the end or just pushing it further? What is the end - where does the U.S. obligations to Afghanistan end?

The threat of terrorism is certainly a key component in framing US-Afghanistan policy, and now the US-AFPak Policy. Looking back to the start of the issue, it really just started with a conflict of political ideologies. The insecurities faced with the threat of spreading Communism made it a priority to aid the Mujahideens to protect Afghanistan from the Soviet Union. Ever since then, the U.S. has trampled into a really sticky situation that led to the Taliban government and a horrific course of events.

It's been a long way since then but even the recent elections have exposed the flimsy foundation of the local government with current president, Karzai, under fire for a corrupt government and for his "weak" control on curbing crime rates and the illegal opium trade. The reconstruction of a nation involves restructuring a sustainable educational system, medical facilities, infrastructure, cultural revival and more importantly an industrial/economic establishment.

Proposed Policy Solutions:

Members at our fireside chat discussed potential solutions to the lack of a stable economic output which can curb the levels of opium trade. Some solutions identified include establishing a transportation industry which enhances communication lines and multilateral development among other middle eastern countries. The fragmented tribal communities in Afghanistan pose a challenge to construct a unified, national entity as most tribes pledge their loyalties to their individual tribes and don't really identify with the concept of a national identity. A strong transportation system would foster intra-tribal relations and trade with neighboring countries. Finally, the transportation industry, if well established can be lucrative since transportation and logistics management is a big hurdle in the area.

Partially re-aligning resources away from military expenditures to providing for basic needs like medicine and food as well as being able to respect the need for independence in the state and have confidence in its own people might encourage a more positive light on U.S. efforts to stabilize the region, instead of being viewed as "bullies". To do this, it's vital to understand that many western ideologies (political or social) may not be accepted by the communities in Afghanistan so imposing unwelcome ideologies and cultures can't resonate with the locals.

It's essential to connect with the way the local communities see the world to be able to make any constructive changes in the nation. If the war is to be stopped, the local individuals need to be empowered and this cannot be accomplished if their views of what's best is sidetracked.

When we talk about views and cultural independence - we don't mean to overlook the recent oppressive practices prevalent, especially against women but hope that by empowering the locals they will be able to fight oppression to their people without constant dependence on other countries.

For the long term sustenance of a country, its independent struggle and fight to achieve a stable, productive and prosperous government must originate and be executed independently within the country. This struggle can be viewed to be almost like a "lesson" that helps leaders of a nation to be self-equipped to handle its country's issues.

Thinking differently may not always be the solution to a problem but as Einstein quoted: "We cannot solve the intractable problems we face with the same thinking that brought us into those problems"