Publications by Author: Reddaway, David


New Crises elsewhere have replaced Afghanistan in the headlines, but this week is an important anniversary.

A year ago on Thursday, Afghan leaders signed the Bonn Agreement, a roadmap to take Afghanistan from the wreckage of years of conflict toward democratic elections in 2004. So it is a good time to ask whether Afghanistan is still important to anyone but the Afghans and whether the Bonn roadmap is steering Afghanistan in the right direction.

The answer to both questions is yes. Until the Taliban fell, Afghanistan gave haven to the world's most dangerous terrorists, who would be quick to return if coalition troops withdrew. They, the drug barons and the warlords, would plunge Afghanistan back into darkness. Sept. 11 showed why the world must work with the Afghans to prevent this and why we should commit ourselves to achieving a universally acceptable vision for Afghanistan: the establishment of a sovereign, stable, and secure country with a self-sustaining economy, strong institutions, and a broad-based, multiethnic regime committed to eradicating terrorism and opium production, reducing poverty, and honoring its international obligations - most notably the human rights of minority groups and women. These aspirations are undeniably ambitious. They should be more easily achievable if we apply three R's to Afghanistan. Not, in this case, the traditional reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic, but realism, respect, and resilience.

Realism reminds us that Afghanistan cannot be magically transformed into a modern democracy. Progress toward anything like it will take time. Meanwhile, holding together the myriad Afghan groups means focusing on the essential and the achievable. This applies even to human rights. Those responsible for past atrocities should be called to account. But not yet. At this stage, Afghanistan's fragile consensus could not survive a comprehensive investigation of past excesses.

Nor, realistically, can all the warlords simply be swept away. Instead, the immediate goal must be to draw them into greater dependence on the Kabul administration, with reconstruction aid for their fiefdoms made conditional on good behavior, and to find other work for their foot soldiers. In time, the nascent national army should outgun the private armies.

Realism also suggests that those still calling for the deployment of large numbers of foreign troops to several Afghan cities should drop the idea. Static foreign garrisons would be expensive and vulnerable targets. The present "light footprint" system, backed by the threat of US air power, has worked well. Developments on that theme, not garrisons, can best help keep the peace in the provinces.

Respect means remembering that Afghanistan belongs to the Afghans. Building Afghan capacity must underpin everything we do. Hence the need to nurture viable Afghan institutions, drawing on Afghanistan's cultural and religious heritage. Hence, too, the importance of eradicating opium production and providing alternative livelihoods for farmers. If the rule of law does not prevail, Afghanistan—and we—will fail.

Resilience, in terms of commitment and stamina, will be needed to overcome the many daunting challenges we will continue to face. The international community moved Afghanistan from the top of the "in" basket to the "too difficult" basket after the Soviet occupiers left. Warlords, Taliban, and Al Qaeda took advantage. Whatever difficulties and distractions surface now, we must not snatch defeat from victory by abandoning the Afghans again.

The solutions we develop must also be resilient. Regional neighbors like Pakistan and Iran now tacitly accept the unacceptable—the presence of Western forces—to underwrite peace in Afghanistan. The West, in turn, must accept that Afghanistan's neighbors should be involved in finding solutions, not dismissed as part of the problem. An imperial outpost in Afghanistan in the face of regional hostility isn't a long-term solution. Ask the British. Ask the Russians.

The Afghans and the international community can be proud of what has been achieved in Afghanistan in the last year, with progress in bringing relative stability and normality to daily life, delivering humanitarian aid, providing education and health care, and removing land mines. The return of so many refugees testifies to that success. But Afghanistan is still fragile, and nobody can be complacent about the size of the task ahead. Realism, respect, and resilience are three essential tools if we are to do the job right. It is in our own interests, as well as those of the Afghans, that we should.