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Archive for June, 2013

How Do You Leave A Country Like Afghanistan?

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

 I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading and thinking about what is involved in the U. S. “leaving” Afghanistan in 2014.  Concluded it’s complicated, if our intent is to leave it in a condition that precludes it again becoming a haven for folks who mean to do harm to our country.  Most all of you have more expertise and insight, and have thought more about deeply this situation than I am capable, so I put this note to you as much to draw out your thinking as to share mine.

First of all, I wasn’t able to come up with a “unifying” basis for Afghanistan’s people to want to be members of one nation.  It probably wouldn’t have ever been a country as currently geographically outlined if someone had not drawn it out in ways that did not consider tribes, religions, cultures, etc..  Loyalties seem to be to other commonalities than the geographically-defined Afghanistan. 

Afghanistan does serve what is believed by most to be a valuable purpose for Pakistan and India, simply because of the geographic barrier it provides. 

I have not seen much that has Afghans relating themselves to the central government.  The government does not appear to be a “binder” of any consequence.  The central government provides no national services of any note…..transportation, water, communications, law enforcement, education, agriculture, electricity, healthcare, etc..  Even if “we” built all these infrastructures and services before we leave, who would operate and maintain them?

What about a strategy that focuses only on security and services for the five largest cities in Afghanistan?  What percentage of the country’s population lives in these five biggest urban areas?  What would be the cost to provide basic services…electricity, water, law enforcement, healthcare, transportation, education….for these areas only?  Is there a financial case to be made to some entity to build, operate, maintain and charge for these services? 

The central government may alternatively serve as one of the most destabilizing influences over the next 12-18 months.  Never the peoples’ choice, what will President Karzai do in the last year of his administration?  Will he be a stabilizing and unifying influence on the country, trying to leave a helpful and positive legacy?  Will he effort to protect his “friends” so as to protect himself after he is out of office?  Will he try to remove threats to his perceived well-being?  Will he try to ensure positive and fair elections?  Will he try to have a peaceful and positive transition of power?  Who really are the real power-brokers in this situation…..Karzai and his confidants, or the tribal or religious leaders?  Why will the country, where most every thread of its existence is local not national, care who succeeds Karzai?

Will Karzai let the elections happen?  Only Pashtuns have indicated they will run for president.  How does a government get formed if other groups do not even have candidates?  What does Karzai do next?  Is he concerned about his safety after he leaves office?  As sometimes happen, will the military or a religious leader stage a pre-emptive, pre-election takeover? 

Do you think the Taliban and Al Qaeda will try to influence what happens over the next 12-18 months?  If violence escalates before and after the elections, what will the U.S. do?

I worry that the country does not have enough in the way of natural resources or industry to provide for itself after the U.S. and others leave.  If Afghanistan cannot support itself, and it does not offer skilled workers that could draw in foreign  investments to build factories and industries, what does it do to generate incomes for the people and the government?  As has happened in Africa, will someone see the bounty in getting the poppy trade up to “industrial strength”?

How do you plot a path to creating a stabilizing middle class in a country like Afghanistan?  Some indication of distribution of wealth would be, I would think, a very healthy sign.  How do you keep what wealth there is, and wealth created in the future, in the country, instead of having it exported to safer and more lucrative markets?

The U.S. will need to plan a path that enables us to continue, after we leave, to get comprehensive, timely and meaningful intelligence so that we do not get surprised or bitten by threats coming out of Afghanistan.  How will we task intelligence collection, HUMINT and otherwise, that enables us to better understand threats… the U.S., emanating from Afghanistan, that do not pose a risk to that country?

The U.S. will have to maintain some presence in the country for the long term for a multitude of strategic and tactical purposes, in addition to sourcing intelligence.  Will we be able to negotiate bases and other presence that serves our purposes?

I wonder what happens to all the military and other equipment that has to be gotten out of the country (expensive), destroyed (hard to explain), or left behind (dangerous?).

Sometimes, it is possible to form a regional coalition of neighboring countries whose self-interests are all served by working together in some fashion that enables a stable and safe Afghanistan.  Several of the neighboring “–stans”, China, Iran, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Saudi Arabi, plus a few more.  Interesting bedfellows.

I am certain there are other, more important and overarching strategic and other considerations that I have not even thought about, muchless mentioned.  I’d love to hear your views and ideas, and to share them with our readers.  Please comment on the Roundtable, at, or send me a note at, and I’ll publish as many as possible.



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