Building a Secure Afghan State: Can it Be Done?Printable Version
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
On the eve of the Afghan presidential election, the Center for National Policy hosted an important discussion on building a secure Afghan state and the implications of the Afghan election for the country as well as for U.S. policy in the region. CNP board member, The Hon. Paul McHale, himself an expert on the topic, led the discussion and was joined by Lt. Gen. David Barno, a former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan who now serves as the director of the Near East South Asia Center at the National Defense University and senior advisor and director of the Future of Afghanistan Project at the US Institute of Peace, J. Alexander Thier.
General Barno started off the discussion by looking at the coalition's broader strategic outlook in Afghanistan, comparing the key to success to a math equation with many different variables. According to Barno, significant changes in leadership and strategy have come about since the Obama administration first took office, such as a new ambassador, US commander, and NATO commander. General Barno also commented on the arrival of more resources to Afghanistan such as troops and civilians to better address the security issue in the country and enhance counterinsurgency efforts.
He then focused his attention on the Afghan election. On the issue of election day security, General Barno predicted that this election day would be more violent than the previous one, but would also have a higher voter turnout. He also felt that the potential for a run-off was substantial, potentially throwing Afghanistan into turmoil. General Barno pointed out that we can improve security in Afghanistan militarily, but his concern is over improving security through other avenues such as improving Afghan infrastructure. He also warned against setting arbitrary markers for withdrawal, given that the Taliban's strategy is to wait out coalition forces and regain power.
Mr. Thier focused on the election itself and the importance of the outcome. He began by commenting on the perceptions Afghans held regarding the election, touching on issues such as widespread fraud, backroom deals, and a leader chosen by the US and international community. He predicted that accusations of fraud would be rampant, even if President Karzai won by a large percentage or if the results boiled down to just a few percentage points. Mr. Thier then noted his belief that the healthiest outcome for Afghanistan would be a second round of elections, even with the potential for disruption, ethnic divisiveness, and violence.
Mr. Thier then discussed the implications of the Afghan election and the agenda for the next president. Thier believes that the most important outcome of the election is not necessarily who wins, but what he does while in office. For President Karzai, this means running a legitimate presidency by getting rid of the corruption, fraud, and impunity that is rampant throughout the Afghan bureaucracy. The agenda for the next president overall, Thier said, would include such things as improving security through the use of Afghan security forces, getting rid of corruption, and building political coalitions.
Both speakers then addressed the topic of US strategic interests in Afghanistan. General Barno stated that the US interest centers around denying terrorists a safe haven in Afghanistan and making sure chaos does not spread to its neighbors and destabilize the region. Mr. Thier focused on U.S. local, regional, and global interests ranging from eliminating terrorism in Afghanistan and creating a friendly country in the region to strengthening our alliances and NATO.