Sunday, January 15, 2012

Afghanistan Questions

Here are a few questions I have been thinking about lately after some discussions about Afghanistan and the area.

Is there a major generational gap between the Afghan society that remembers pre-1979 Afghanistan and the current version of Afghanistan? To what extent is the gap reshaping the culture into a new Afghanistan?

What are we really saying when we say we want to fight the Taliban? Are we focusing too much on a literal individual, or do we really mean the disruptive radical ideology? What happens if the "Taliban" turn moderate in terms of their use of violence to promote their ideology?

To what extent is the Muslim Brotherhood courting the Taliban to moderate their (Taliban) extreme perception? Is there any relation at all? If so, should we then be worried about a more moderated Taliban?

To what extent will successful bottom-up village level initiatives modify the overall Afghan governance architecture?

How ripe is Pakistan for another military coup?


  1. 23, 2012 at 9:44 AM

    Joe – Here are my thoughts on your question, “To what extent will successful bottom-up village level initiatives modify the overall Afghan governance architecture?”
    Bottom-up programs work effectively at the tactical level to build local security, governance, and infrastructure. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) initiatives currently sustain many of these efforts. The future of these programs leading up to 2014 and the transition to full Afghan authority remains in question. To achieve long-term effects, changes to overall Afghan governance must be internally driven from the top down.
    Special Operations Forces (SOF) currently conduct Village Stability Operations (VSO) across Afghanistan. VSO links the village and district governance infrastructures. Formally started in 2009, the VSO program represents a sustained Foreign Internal Defense (FID) mission that formalizes and legitimizes longstanding SOF practice in Afghanistan. SOF lives inside Afghan villages and create partnerships with the Afghan Local Police (ALP). As these programs mature at the village level, these villages are linked to the district leadership and eventually to the Afghan provincial leadership. The use of ALP creates a cost effective program because the police remain as a local force and are not deployed like the Afghan National Army (ANA). The program remains successful at the village level.
    Sustained progress beyond the local level requires the perceived legitimacy of Afghan leadership at all levels of government. The bottom up approach improves security, governance, and development at the village, district levels, and even the provincial level. Bottom-up progress must be met by a top-down approach to enhance legitimacy at the national level. This will become even more critical as ISAF partners begin to reduce current force structure.


  2. I definitely do not disagree with the concept of VSO as fulfilling a need for a bottom-up approach in Afghanistan. However, a bottom-up governance architecture is very different than the one currently being instituted. Afghanistan's current architecture has been created to function primarily at the central government (Kabul and 34 Provinces) level. So, efforts have been applied by the U.S. and international partners to bolster the capacity of a centrally controlled Afghanistan. Unfortunately, as you implied, the legitimacy of the central government is not good for a variety of reasons: incompetence, ineffectiveness, corruption, etc. Therefore, as a two pronged strategy from the top and bottom is tried, one should wonder if the current governmental structure (a centralized Afghan government) does not suit the public needs of citizens dispersed throughout highly tribal and distributed locally oriented nodes. A recent Congressional Research Service Report by Kenneth Katzman certainly confirms this concern and notes that, "the international community has had mixed success in shifting authority in Afghanistan from traditional leaders and relationships to transparent and effective state institutions." By following a top and bottom architectural approach, will the Afghan government, therefore, encounter greater strain trying to achieve both an internationally preferred construct and a domestically preferred construct? I tend to think this places artificial stress on government institutions as layers of bureaucracy compete for attention and relevancy. The real question then is how centralized should the Afghan government be; and, if it should not be so centralized, then at which level, provincial or district, should the majority of governmental power reside?

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Thank you for commenting. I appreciate your interest in the topic. It adds a little more to how we understand our world.