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States of Failure

The following letter from Ambassador Said T. Jawad was published in the August/September 2008 issue of Foreign Policy magazine, in response to an article claiming that Afghanistan is a failed state.

Although Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace's "Failed State Index" (July/August 2008) seeks to measure the strength and stability of the world's countries based on a number of factors, it does not properly account for historical context and relative progress. These two factors are vital to understanding Afghanistan's circumstances today.

Prior to the Taliban's defeat in late 2001, Afghanistan had been wracked by conflict for over 20 years. Those conflicts, which were fueled by international actors, effectively destroyed Afghanistan's state institutions and scattered its people. In that sense, Afghanistan was a failed state. But it is inaccurate to describe it as such today.

Building state capacity is a process that can span decades. Few countries developed into the functioning states they are today overnight. In fact, a great majority took generations to do so. It took 21 years after the American Revolution before the U.S. saw a year of peace, almost 100 years before it abolished slavery, and 137 years before women could vote.

Although some may argue that the backing of the international community should assure quicker progress, Afghanistan still faces a complex regional context, a committed terrorist enemy, and a daunting reconstruction process.

Despite these challenges, Afghanistan has already drawn out the contours of a democratic system, brought women into the political process, and enrolled more than 6 million children in school – a fivefold increase since 2001.

Afghanistan is not yet in the clear, as recent security incidents indicate. But with committed and consistent international support, Afghanistan will continue to establish and strengthen its institutions. The process will be neither quick nor cheap. Only if the world treats it as such will Afghanistan run the risk of once again becoming a failed state.

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