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Welcome to Kabul:Reconstructions. You can follow the information below, which has been gathered from a number of sources by a number of participants (click on the names at left for bios), to reconstruct your own picture of events in Kabul since this site was launched on March 8th, 2003 and, in a sense, since the reconstruction of Afghanistan began somewhere in the winter of 2001-02.

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Report on Afghanistan submitted by Peter Tomsen to House Committe on Internat'l Relations
Committee on International Relations U.S. House of Representatives Washington, D.C. 20515-0128

Submitted to the HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS By PETER TOMSEN Former United States Special Envoy and Ambassador on Afghanistan, 1989 - 1992 Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia, 1995 - 1998

The stunning American-led military victory in Afghanistan which ousted the Taliban-Al Queda regime has not been followed up by an effective, adequately funded reconstruction strategy to help Afghans rebuild their country and restore their self-governing institutions.  The initial enthusiasm genuinely felt by the Afghan people that peace was returning has clearly faded.  Today, there is a sense among Afghans, foreigners working in Afghanistan, and the media that the U.S.-led coalition and the moderate Hamid Karzai government have lost the initiative in Afghanistan.

Mr. Chairman, this does not mean that the momentum is now with the ragtag bands of fanatics left over from the Taliban-Al Queda period presently staging sporadic attacks into Afghanistan from Pakistan.  No, instead there is a sort of pall, a paralysis, obfuscating the future of Afghanistan.  The overwhelming majority of Afghans oppose the Muslim extremists, the hated warlords, and continuing violence.  But, increasingly fearful of the future, many are switching gears back to neutral in the event the U.S. and its allies leave and the fanatics return.

Current Trendlines in Afghanistan   If present trends continue, five years from now Afghanistan is likely to look very much like it does today: reconstruction stagnation, a weak central government starved of resources, unable to extend its influence to the regions where oppressive warlords reign, opium production soars, and guerrilla warfare in Afghan-Pakistani border areas generated by Pakistan-based Muslim extremists continues to inflict casualties on coalition and Afghan forces.

A second possible scenario five years from now forecasts an even worse outcome: backsliding to the externally fueled, chaotic 1992-1996 period of warlord conflict and chaos inside Afghanistan. This scenario involves warlords deploying ever larger forces, heavy weapons and aircraft to fight pitched battles with each other to expand their territorial control, capture more of the lucrative drug trade and extort money from traders. As in the 1990s, Kabul itself would eventually fall victim to conflict among warlords and Muslim extremists.  The Western presence in Afghanistan would dwindle due to deteriorating security.  Afghanistan would once more suffer great humanitarian tragedy, massive refugee outflows, human and gender rights violations.

Influential circles in Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China, each for its own reasons, would welcome deterioration in the U.S.-led coalition’s position in Afghanistan.  They would resume their competition for geo-political advantage against one another in Afghanistan, each employing their favored Afghan warlords or religious extremists. Al Queda, Taliban and other Muslim radicals would re-establish Afghan bases for international terrorism.  Muslim extremists from Southeast Asia to North Africa would gain new followers by portraying a Western retreat from Afghanistan.  The U.S. and its allies would plan another costly military operation to prevent the growing hemorrhaging of international terrorism, instability and drugs from Afghanistan.

NEEDED:  A NATO Deployment and Fresh Reconstruction Push that Restores Positive Momentum in Afghan Reconstruction The U.S. should seek NATO approval to augment the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan when NATO takes over the UN mandate for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in early August.  In addition to the approximately 5,000 troops in Kabul, NATO should deploy two additional brigades to Afghanistan.

One brigade would be teamed up with Afghan national police, military and local tribal militia to protect the road, bridge and major irrigation projects under construction or planned in Afghanistan.  Those projects are critical to ending the isolation of Afghanistan’s regions from Kabul.  Such isolation from Kabul underpins warlord rule, poppy production and openings for attacks by radical Muslims from Pakistan.

The second NATO brigade would be stationed along the eastern Afghan-Pakistani border.  It would complement the Kandahar-based U.S. 82nd Division brigade screen against radical Muslim incursions from Pakistan in Afghanistan’s southwest.  The second NATO brigade’s mission should include assisting the under-equipped, under-funded, beleaguered Afghan border patrol and national police units guarding the eastern Afghan-Pakistani frontier.

These NATO deployments are not sufficient to restore positive momentum in Afghanistan.  The U.S.-led coalition must parallel the NATO military initiative with a reconstruction “push.”  This means more resources for Afghan reconstruction from the international community, particularly for rebuilding Afghan self-governing institutions and infrastructure projects.  It also entails better organization within the U.S. Government to ensure a more effective U.S. strategy on Afghanistan.

NEEDED:  An Overall U.S. Policy, Better Coordination on the Ground, Institution Building The Bush Administration is yet to create both a long term Afghan policy and a mechanism to ensure disciplined interagency implementation of that policy. In the Afghanistan Freedom Support Act, Congress’ suggested remedy was a Coordinator within the State Department to create “an overall strategy” for Afghanistan.  The bill recommended that the Coordinator also be responsible for “ensuring program and policy coordination among agencies of the United States Government” and for “resolving policy and program disputes among United States Government agencies….”

These worthy goals remain unmet.  There still is no overall U.S. policy for Afghanistan.  Separate “stovepipe” operations by different U.S. agencies in Afghanistan remain the norm. Occasional White House “fixes” have been piecemeal, not strategic, such as the instruction to USAID to complete its stalled Kabul-Kandahar road project by the end of 2003. Sending out more high level officials to join the three ambassadors already in Kabul will not do the job.  The policy drift in U.S. Afghan policy must first be resolved in Washington.

The State and Defense Departments, the CIA and USAID are the four main U.S. Government agencies active in Afghanistan.  Their individual operations are frequently not coordinated.  Often they are conflictive. Afghan officials in Kabul and the regions are alternately confused and amused, as well as frustrated and angered by the different signals, commitments and policies of these various U.S. agencies operating in their country.  The declared U.S. policy of supporting the Karzai Government and withdrawing support for warlords is not being implemented in the case of many warlords.  Ironically, a common U.S. appeal to Afghans is to unify -- even while U.S. agencies in Afghanistan are not unified.

Central Intelligence Agency CIA operations are a major obstacle to a unified and effective U.S. policy in Afghanistan.  The Bush administration needs to remember that the CIA is a policy implementing, not a policy making institution. Unfortunately, during the overthrow of the Taliban-Al Queda regime, the CIA poured tens of millions into financing the return of the unpopular warlords whose misrule in the 1990s played a catalytic role in the seizure of power by the Taliban and Al-Queda. “This is the CIA’s strategy. We’re just implementing that strategy”, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld complained in Bob Woodward’s Bush at War narrative of the post 9/11 Afghan war strategy sessions in the White House.

CIA freelancing in Afghanistan is nothing new.  In 1989-1992, contrary to the then American policy to support a broad- based Afghan political settlement process, such as occurred following the Taliban’s ouster, the CIA worked closely with Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) to pursue a purely military policy aimed at replacing the Afghan communist regime with Afghan Muslim extremists. CIA officials in Washington parroted the false ISI line that moderates like Hamid Karzai and Abdul Haq had few followers in Afghanistan.  Today, the CIA’s ignorance of the complicated Afghan situation, scarce CIA human intelligence assets in Afghanistan and the Agency’s independent ability to secretly fund Afghan contenders are all too reminiscent of the CIA’s counterproductive tactics during that period.

Department of Defense The Department of Defense (DOD) has demonstrated creativity in establishing the impressive Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).  Blending security and development, the PRTs are constructing small scale reconstruction projects in Afghanistan’s poverty stricken rural areas and towns where most Afghans live.  DOD is also stationing construction engineers in some key Afghan ministries.

These laudable DOD initiatives, however, have not been part of an integrated American reconstruction strategy in which all U.S. Government agencies are coordinating to maximize results. DOD should also be more aggressive in exploiting the PRT reconstruction platforms. The less than $20 million DOD set aside for PRT projects this year will not make more than a reconstruction dent in Afghanistan’s thirty-two provinces. 

The under-resourced PRTs are nevertheless doing excellent development work and have great potential to do much more.  The U.S. should double the currently planned eight PRTs.  (The Gardez PRT must cover five tough provinces in the east --Paktia, Paktika, Khowst, Logar and Ghazni!). 

The PRTs are winners, an innovative, productive framework for reconstruction in Afghanistan’s rural areas.  There should be more of them and more project funding support for each.

The Department of State  The State Department has so far failed to seize the interagency initiative on Afghan policy, as recommended by Congress in the Afghan Freedom Support Act.  This could begin with State’s establishment of an overall U.S. Afghan policy and implementation strategy supported by the White House and other U.S. Government agencies involved in Afghanistan.

Last fall, the State Department dispatched its superb international development specialist, Ambassador William B. Taylor, to Kabul.  It has staffed up its own Afghan Coordinator’s office.  These measures, however, have not changed the impression that State has failed to exercise  policy leadership on Afghanistan.  The able U.S Ambassador in Kabul, although “Chief of Mission” seems to manage only one of four U.S Government policies in Afghanistan.  Other agencies have pushed into the policy vacuum. 

Within the State Department, since 9/11, no U.S. diplomat has yet started long term (forty-four week) Afghan language and area studies—an omission which contradicts the President and Secretary Powell’s assurances that the U.S. intends a long term commitment to Afghanistan.   The State Department has also had a hard time placing diplomats in the Pentagon’s PRTs in Afghanistan, and then the assignments are for a “come and go” six month period. Rather than increase the incentives, State has turned to its retirees, some quite elderly, to serve in such Spartan locations as Konduz and Herat.

USAID  After a wobbly start, USAID has begun to register some significant accomplishments in Afghan reconstruction. Working with other donors and the Afghan Central Bank, USAID assisted the creation and distribution of a new Afghan currency.  The USAID Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) is now up and running in Afghanistan, producing a growing number of small projects.  USAID sponsored Non-Governmental Organizations have printed millions of textbooks, trained teachers and reconstructed schools for boys and girls.  USAID is also introducing modern facilities into the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank.

USAID’s general record in Afghanistan, however, contrasts with its dynamic successes decades ago in South Korea, India, Taiwan, Turkey and elsewhere. Twenty years ago, USAID did outstanding work when USAID direct hire employees with technical expertise were in the field --specialists in everything from road building engineers to PhDs in agriculture.  These skilled development experts knew how to manage projects directly and get results.  They could liaise with host country ministries, read the blueprints, certify results, and often speak the local language.

Times have changed.  USAID has drifted away from field work and become a huge contract writing agency.  This has an especially deleterious effect in managing important infrastructure projects, such as major roads, bridges and dams.  It takes USAID many months to negotiate contracts for large projects, then to transfer congressionally appropriated funds to contractors, who sub-contract to smaller contractors or Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), which then hire the technical expertise for projects on the ground.  Concrete project implementation is delayed and feeble.  Contractors and host country officials become frustrated by USAID regulations and bureaucracy.  Too often, critical time-sensitive U.S. goals of creating stability, security, jobs, democracy, and revived governing institutions are sacrificed to the tortuously slow USAID bureaucratic process. 

One noteworthy contribution USAID has made in recent years—quick, effective emergency action response using USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)—has atrophied.   USAID pulled back the OFDA team it had sent to Islamabad and Tashkent for deployment to Afghanistan. 

USAID is moving too slowly in assigning USAID personnel with adequate funds to the PRTs, where tangible development activity is actually taking place.

Building Afghan Institutions Unfortunately, USAID continues in practice to resist guidelines to give a high priority to Afghan institution building.  Unlike the warlords, Hamid Karzai and his ministries have received minimal resources for administrative expenses.  Police, military officials, teachers and other government employees regularly are not paid their salaries. Corruption, inevitably, is rising.

An aggressive international assistance program led by USAID to provide large scale direct assistance to President Hamid Karzai’s fledgling government would produce political and security benefits.  The central government’s control would expand into the regions. Strengthening the central government and its administrative arms in the provinces would also improve project implementation, accelerate demobilization of the warlord militias, and employ local Afghans --thus moving money into the economy to stimulate economic growth.

Reforming USAID USAID’s halting performance in Afghanistan demonstrates a generic problem related to meeting the 21st century development challenges exemplified in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The Bush Administration should set the stage for revamping USAID by appointing a high level commission to offer recommendations for reform. The next administration and Congress could utilize these recommendations to remake USAID into a U.S. Government institution better organized to carry out mandates from Executive Branch policy makers and from Congress.  In the meantime, USAID regulations and protocols should be relaxed and simplified to speed up USAID’s implementation of its programs worldwide, as well as in Afghanistan.

Leveraging Other Donor Assistance A re-invigorated American reconstruction strategy in Afghanistan would inspire other donors to fulfill their previous pledges of assistance to Afghanistan. A more effective U.S. approach would leverage additional funding from governments reticent to invest more unless Afghanistan’s reconstruction shows promise.  Just as important, a better crafted and implemented American approach to Afghan reconstruction would draw the enthusiastic cooperation of Afghans still hopeful that the international community will help their country get back on its feet.

Implementation of the Bonn Agreement The preliminary stages of the Bonn process were successfully carried out, concluding with the June, 2002, Loya Jirga election of President Hamid Karzai by secret ballot.  The next major milestones in the Bonn process are a Loya Jirga this coming fall to choose a new Afghan Constitution, and countrywide elections in June, 2004.  While the constitutional Loya Jirga may be held as planned, the Bonn process in general, including the 2004 elections, will face growing difficulties if security does not improve and the reconstruction process remains bogged down.  As Lakhdar Brahimi, the senior United Nations official in Afghanistan warned May 7, “support for the government and the Bonn process will erode dangerously” if security does not improve in Afghanistan.

Continuing implementation of the Bonn process will thus mainly depend on enhanced security accompanied by the successful extension of the Kabul government’s authority into Afghanistan’s regions.  Well organized, fair, countrywide elections, for example, could not take place if feuding warlords still dominate Afghanistan’s regions and the central government remains weak.

A second roadblock on the Bonn track is competition among Afghanistan’s larger neighbors for geo-political position inside Afghanistan.  One face of the Pakistani ISI, in coordination with Muslim extremist circles in Pakistan, continues to assist radical Afghan groups mounting attacks into Afghanistan from bases in Pakistan.  Over half of the Taliban cabinet remains in Pakistan, and they are not just sipping tea.

Islamabad is quite obviously concerned about the rising involvement of India in Afghanistan, including the recent establishment of two Indian consulates near the Afghan-Pakistani border.  While improving relations with India, the Afghan government should bear in mind Pakistan’s long held fear of an Indian-orchestrated strategic vise pressing on Pakistan simultaneously from India in the east and Afghanistan in the west.  Like Switzerland and Nepal, Afghan interests would be best served by balancing off its more powerful neighbors and by avoiding entangling alliances.

Iranian military and economic assistance to warlords near the Iranian-Afghan border mirror its machinations in eastern Iraq and raise suspicions about Tehran’s rhetorical support for the Bonn process.  The ruling clerics in Iran have an allergy to the Bonn agreement goals of democracy, tolerance, and rule of law.  There are reports that Iranian Revolutionary Guard intelligence elements are organizing Shia opposition to the Karzai government in the central Hazarajat region. 

Iran, China, Pakistan and India are all building roads into Afghanistan’s periphery.  The roads will stimulate trade.  They can also introduce disruptive foreign influence into Afghan border regions located far from Kabul.

Return of “waiting in the wings” externally stoked conflict within Afghanistan is perhaps the biggest threat to the Bonn process.  A more robust American diplomacy in and around Afghanistan could moderate regional tensions and lessen the danger that Afghanistan will again become a cockpit for struggle among neighbors seeking advantage over one another. 

Empowering Moderate Afghans It is clear that only the Afghan moderates symbolized by President Hamid Karzai, Foreign Minister Abdullah and most of the Afghan cabinet have the desire and intention to implement the democratic Bonn roadmap. Ikhwani (Muslim Brotherhood) Afghan Islamists such as Hekmatyar, Sayyaf and Rabbani may now pay lip service to democracy and elections.  Ideologically and politically, they would once more embrace the anti-Western, Al Queda brand of Muslim totalitarianism as soon as opportunity permits.  If the current status quo persists, most warlords in the regions will attempt to fix election outcomes in their areas.

U.S. policy should therefore become much more decisive in building up the moderate Karzai regime.  The emphasis must be on gradually strengthening the central government, and its reach into the regions through the center’s economic, police and military presence in the provinces. 

Empowering the Afghan moderates at the center should take precedence over removing destructive warlords by force, although that course might be necessary in some instances.  Over time, however, the expanding power of the central government will elicit warlord cooperation and eventual submission.  In the end, the era of warlord rule will fade, as an ever stronger central government assigns new governors and regional military leaders to the provinces.

Two important domestic Afghan factors would increase prospects for success of this strategy.  One is the widespread opposition of the great majority of the Afghan people to both the warlords and the radical “Jihadi” politicians promoted by extremist Muslims in Pakistan and the Gulf countries.  The second factor is the yearning among Afghans for peace and stability. If the Karzai Government, supported by a more effective U.S. Afghan policy, an expanded NATO peacekeeping presence, and a fresh reconstruction “push” shows itself capable of extending its authority to the regions, its popular support among the Afghan people will steadily grow.  And that support would be the main determinant of success for the historic Afghan reconstruction process.
Posted By: mariam   November 13th 2003, 2003 8:14 PM

Kabul: Partial Reconstructions is an installation and public dialogue project that explores the multiple meanings and resonances of the idea of reconstruction -- as both process and metaphor -- in the context of present-day Kabul.

www.kabul-reconstructions.net is an online discussion forum, information resource, and medium for the communication of questions and answers about the reconstruction between people inside and outside the city of Kabul itself.