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Foreign Affairs

September/October 2007

Letter to the Editor by Ambassador Said T. Jawad

To the Editor:

Bruce Reidel (“Al Qaeda Strikes Back,” May/June 2007) provides an interesting but uneven prognosis of Afghanistan’s role in the next chapter of the war on terror. Reidel’s recommendation that Washington enhance its commitment to the mission in Afghanistan is most welcome. Although the price of rebuilding Afghanistan is not cheap, the cost of doing too little and failing to deliver on our promises will be exorbitant. New resources are needed to enhance the Afghan government’s ability to provide protection and deliver services to its people.

He correctly argues that a military approach alone will not defeat al Qaeda. In Afghanistan, as in the greater Middle East, comprehensive reconstruction combined with an enhanced campaign against the regional sources of terrorist training and indoctrination will undermine al Qaeda’s ability to brainwash another generation of frustrated, impoverished young men. Reidel correctly locates al Qaeda’s resurgent leadership in Afghanistan’s restive backyard.

Building effective Afghan state institutions is the most cost effective means of combating al Qaeda and the Taliban. To this end, the Afghan National Army (ANA) requires more trainers, better weapons, armored vehicles, and air lift capabilities to be a more effective and independent fighting force. Reidel’s suggested diversion of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan will not necessarily empower the ANA. A relatively small deployment of Special Forces and infantry trained specifically for the unique combat situation in Afghanistan will be more effective than a large contingent of additional troops who arrive unaware or unsympathetic to the sensitivities of Afghan society and culture.

Reidel’s analysis underscores the lack of effectiveness in previous international assistance. Far too much aid is supply driven and focused on wasteful technical assistance programs. When Afghans see poorly built schools and clinics collapsing in their provinces (or a lack of such facilities) they lose faith in the Afghan government and the international community. Too much aid is delivered outside the Government’s budgetary framework and guided by the priorities of donors rather than the national government. Currently, only 5 percent of international assistance funds are given to the Afghan government and 83 percent are disbursed without the government’s knowledge or approval. The consequence of this imbalance is a weak sense of ownership of the development process amongst Afghans themselves. In the absence of proper coordination and oversight, our sovereign government will be ill-equipped to address local grievances while al Qaeda and the Taliban capitalize on public frustration. International donors must work together to increase the pace and scope of current capacity-building efforts, empower the private sector as the country’s key engine of growth, and get aid in the hands of languishing villagers as quickly as possible.

Despite their many frustrations, what the Afghan people fear most is that they will once again be abandoned by the international community.

Ambassador Said T. Jawad

Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United States

Washington, DC

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