Afghanistan: Shovels over Boots

27 Jul

Afghanistan once had a strong tradition of democracy and development relative to other countries in the region. Unfortunately, decades of foreign intervention have unraveled that tradition, and a heavy-handed military approach will only exacerbate the problem. U.S. and allied military presence in Afghanistan has not only failed to stabilize the regime or help the effort to build a post-Taliban democracy; our military presence has actually destabilized large regions of the country, and the propensity of areal bombardment to kill innocent civilians there guarantees a recruiting tool for the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.

The reliance on air strikes and drone attacks in Afghanistan illustrates the ultimate futility of large-scale military solutions to the problems of terrorism and regional instability. The Pentagon itself has admitted that problems abound with air strikes, one of which recently resulted in the death of 150 civilians, including 95 children. Pakistan, meanwhile, continues to grow angry at U.S. drone attacks in its country, which it understandably sees as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Those drone attacks also embolden non-Al Qaeda insurgents even as they purportedly kill Al Qaeda figures.

Non-military solutions, and an emphasis on “shovels over boots,” with a limited security force, can include support for democratic movements, the facilitation of nongovernmental development organizations and capacity-building projects.

Engagement between the United States and regional players – including Iran, Russia, India, Pakistan amd China – can serve the dual purpose of contributing to genuine stability in Afghanistan, and bolstering relations between the U.S. and those countries. Iran shares a border with Afghanistan, through which refugees, weapons and opium find their way into the Islamic Republic. U.S. engagement with Iran on the issue of Afghanistan could provide an additional incentive for larger scale cooperation between those two countries.

Instability in Afghanistan threatens Russian interests, chiefly due to the proximity of Afghanistan’s border with the Central Asian Republics. Recently, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko noted that “Russia has expressed its readiness more than once to co-operate and that the concrete parameters will depend on the willingness of the United States to co-operate.”

One of the main reasons India should be involved in the process is that nation’s concerns that eliminating extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan could lead to an influx of refugees and extremists into the Kashmir region. Various diplomatic and military problems with both U.S. and Pakistani military action within Pakistan underscore the need, expressed by Secretary Clinton, to step up regional efforts at diplomacy, civilian engagement, and development aid.

Beijing has an interest in a stable Afghanistan not only because of China’s energy needs, but also because of the large Chinese province of Xinjiang, inhabited by the Uighar Muslim minority. China also enjoys warm relations with Pakistan, which could help in forging a common multilateral agreement among the U.S. and major regional players.

Among other programs, I support the findings of the Collaborative Workshop on Participatory Research and Capacity Building of Institutions in Afghanistan & Pakistan in Sustainable Sanitation, which recommends projects designed to improve water, sanitation, health and the quality of life for the people of Afghanistan, of whom only 23 percent have access to safe drinking water; the United Nations-led Re-integration Support Program for Ex-Combatants; and the recommendations of the Conference on Public Sector Capacity Development Assistance in Afghanistan.

Adriel Hampton is a journalist, Gov 2.0 and new media strategist, public servant, and licensed private investigator. He is running for U.S. Congress in the 2009 special election for California’s 10th District. He has pledged to vote against funding for expansion of the Iraq and Afghan wars.

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