Op-Ed: Rebuild Afghanistan or Terrorists Will Find Fertile Ground for Growth

Rebuild Afghanistan or Terrorists Will Find Fertile Ground for Growth

By Bruce Hitchner and Paul Williams, The Washington Times, October 24, 2001

Now that the United States and its allies have taken the first step in bringing about the military defeat of the Taliban regime and the destruction of the terrorist networks based in Afghanistan, it is important for the United States and its allies to begin preparing to take the necessary steps to rebuild postwar Afghanistan.

Just as the provision of humanitarian assistance is a crucial complement to the military campaign, the creation of a stable and secure Afghan state is a crucial element of America’s long-term campaign against terrorism. The United States has recognized that it will not successfully topple the Taliban and dislodge the terrorists unless it can persuade the Afghan people and the wider Islamic community that the war is against their Taliban oppressors and not the people of Afghanistan. Similarly, the United States cannot prevent the return of terrorists to Afghanistan or the spawning of new terrorists networks unless it works to build a more stable post-terrorist environment in South Central Asia.

While there are many causes of terrorism, the failed state of Afghanistan provided fertile ground for the growth of the largest and most potent terrorist network. Unfortunately, much of the region from the Black Sea to Western China is dominated by unstable states with fragile and corrupt political systems, widespread poverty and alienation, entrenched criminal networks, weak institutions and shaky economies further undermined by the drug trade. As a consequence, ethnic and religious tensions and low-intensity conflict feed organized terrorism in many of the states in this region.

Regardless of its intent, the United States will find itself embroiled in the domestic political dynamics of a post-Taliban Afghanistan. In order to avoid past mistakes, the United States must be ready with a strategy for Afghan nation building when the Taliban regime collapses.

The impressive military efforts of the United States and its allies should therefore be coupled with an unprecedented diplomatic and economic initiative in South Central Asia. This new doctrine must be intended to root out the causes of organized terrorism and build stable functioning states.

The implementation of a strategy for rebuilding Afghanistan requires as a first step making common cause with Russia, India, Pakistan and China to reshape political and economic relations in the region. The next step involves renewed and comprehensive efforts to resolve points of conflict in the region, including Kashmir, Chechnya and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. While not easy conflicts to resolve, progress on these disputes is essential to winning the war on terrorism.

These efforts must be combined with an effort to develop permanent inter-state, regional-security architecture involving the United States and Russia as well as Pakistan and India – a difficult and volatile, but necessary mix. This effort must also be accompanied by an intra-state focused network of institutions and non-governmental organizations supported by the international community that promote the rule of law, human rights, economic development and the environment in each of its states.

The concept of rebuilding failed states has been much disparaged in recent years. Indeed, despite the successful efforts at regime rehabilitation and stabilization in Germany and Japan, there exists no ideal recent model for post-conflict nation building. Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor all suffer from numerous defects in design and implementation, and some may be considered outright failures. However, important lessons may be learned from both our successes and failures in these states. Particularly, there is a need for the creation of a meaningful domestic security structure, with a focus on organized crime and anti-drug operations. To ensure adequate de-terrorization of a state requires an internationally sponsored civil and military monitoring mission, and targeted political reform.

The lesson to be learned from previous attempts at nation building is not that all such efforts should be eschewed, but that they must be multilateral, well-funded and subject to strong and focused leadership – either from the United States or an equally capable ally. While the United Nations may provide legal and political authority for post-conflict regime- building, it has proven ineffective at the actual task of reconstituting failed states and rebuilding destroyed economies.

As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently proclaimed, “The circumstances in the world have shifted. In a year or two, or three, we’ll see considerably different arrangement in the globe than existed prior to Sept. 11 because the event is of that magnitude.” While the United States must continue to invest heavily in military technology and hardware, and homeland defense, it must also renovate its blueprints for investing in post-conflict regime stabilization.

Rebuilding failed states is politically and economically costly and fraught with unforeseen peril. However, if the United States fails to prepare for and embark upon such a mission it runs the risk of winning the military conflict, but failing to secure a meaningful or lasting peace.

Bruce Hitchner is chairman of the Dayton Peace Accords Project and director of the Center for International Programs at the University of Dayton. Paul Williams is a professor of law and international relations at American University.

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