Emerging Political Map of Asia Conference

September 21 – 22, 2006

The Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad
In Cooperation with
The Hanns Seidel Foundation, Germany

The Crisis of Terrorism and the Reconstruction of Afghanistan
By: Nasrine Gross
Email: Kabultec@gmail.com, website: www.kabultec.org
Tel: 0700281694 (Kabul), 703-536-6471 (USA)

A. Introduction

I feel it is apt to first give some good news before I delve into my topic about terrorism and reconstruction in Afghanistan. Observing Afghanistan in the last five years, I am convinced about the good news. It has proven – – at least to me – – beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is capable of successfully reemerging after nearly one generation of unimagined war and struggle and depravity.

Since 2001 Afghanistan has done great things for rehabilitating itself. We now have a democratic constitution with equal rights for men and women. We are very proud to have an elected president and an elected parliament with about 500 members, 91 of whom are women. There is a newly confirmed judiciary (only one member is left to be confirmed and I am hoping that that will be a woman). We have a fledgling army and police. We have around six million students in schools. We have several million returning refugees. We have many thousands of reconstruction projects around the country. We have over sixty foreign missions that have opened their embassies in Kabul, meaning we want to have good relations with all countries. The fact that there are more than forty countries that are helping us is also reassuring.

Our people are very happy about these changes; they definitely do not want to live without these. For certain, they do not want to revert to the days of the Taliban. In addition, in the 37 years that I had lived outside the country before returning five years ago one thing I had forgotten about my culture and that is how hard working my own Afghan people are. I have never seen as hard working a people anywhere. These achievements and qualities of my people have convinced me that Afghanistan can be successful within a reasonable time.

In this presentation I will first talk about the crisis of terrorism and why it has happened. Then I will discuss the reconstruction and some of its problems. Finally, I will conclude by presenting some suggestions that will help define a more effective solution.

B. The Crisis of Terrorism

In the last two years the situation of the war on terror has deteriorated. Taliban and Al-Qaeda have made a come back. The worst was this spring and summer. We used to have a couple of skirmishes per week; now they are about nine per day. A few weeks ago there were five explosions in Kabul in one day. These skirmishes comprise many different things, such as suicide bombings, ambushes, surprise attacks, explosions, guerrilla activity as well as conventional warfare. During this past summer, the NATO forces had surrounded 700 Taliban in one battle, which to me indicates that this is not guerrilla warfare anymore but includes conventional warfare, with heavy armament and well defined command and control.

On a daily basis we now have many combatants that are killed on both sides (Talib, Al-Qaeda, Afghan National Army and Police, members of the Coalition and ISAF). Our schools are being burned; clinics, roads and bridges destroyed; teachers, students, clerics, construction workers, aid employees killed; men, women, children and families injured and intimidated. This level of activity is a crisis level.

This dangerous drama is almost entirely played out in the south and southeast of the country in what is called the Pashtun belt. It is localized and consists of the provinces of Zabul, Uruzgan, Kandahar, Helmand, Nangarhar, Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Nuristan and Konar, that border with Pakistan and where the majority of the population is Pashtun although, the skirmishes have also come to some neighboring provinces like Wardak and Ghazni. It is very important to note that the rest of the country is relatively quiet. There are very few skirmishes there, maybe an occasional suicide bombing or a school burning. These other twenty-three provinces have not had incidents of attacks against the government or the population. On the contrary, the cooperation with the government and the international community is very healthy and the reconstruction is advancing rather well.

For me there are several major reasons for this resurgence. For one thing, I think from the inception, the war on terror pursued a flawed strategy and that is to sweep away the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and not destroy them. If Ahmed Rashid is right, around 1999 the Taliban were about 60,000 and composed of Afghans, Pakistanis, Arabs, Uzbekistanis, Chechens, Uighurs, and others, and I am assuming that their number had increased by 2001. But sweeping them into the border area did not really neutralize them; they remained a scattered force, but a force to be sure, experienced, trained and brainwashed. So far, we have not heard of reports of say several thousand of them being killed by the bombardment or combat. Nowadays, it is not a rarity to get reports and/or photos in the Afghan media of the captured Taliban and they are identified as Chechen, Pakistani or Arab. And then, there were also reports that about 90,000 Pakistanis entered Afghanistan in a three year period during the time of the Taliban (1996 to 1998) and many of them were given Afghan identity cards. I always wonder what has happened to this group.

Another reason, I think is lack of good intelligence capabilities. From the literature that now exists such as books and articles, we can infer that in 2001 our friends in the war on terror came into Afghanistan with practically no intelligence capability of their own. With the exception of the ISI that had a deep, organized and knowledgeable presence, only the British seems to have had an already existing intelligence capability on the ground in Afghanistan in 2001. However, internally, the Mujaheddin, the United Front did have some good intelligence capacity. This was one of Ahmad Shah Massoud’s strong points. But this capability was not the source of choice for our friends; rather the media reports seem to suggest that ISI was the source of choice. I believe it was a mistake not to use those that knew the enemy as an enemy but to rely on those who knew the enemy as friends. The United Front intelligence was about how to beat the enemy; the ISI intelligence was (and is) about how to help a friend. Our friends used the enemy perspective from the wrong direction of a friend, not a foe. In addition, it takes a long time to develop a good intelligence capability and five years is not enough.

Still another problem lies in the Afghanistan knowledge base of the international community. The disengagement of most of the world from Afghanistan, for more than a decade after the Soviet pull out of 1989 resulted not only in these countries not having bureaucrats and decision makers well-versed on Afghanistan, but also, at least in the US, even the universities abandoned teaching Dari/Pashto or offering many courses on Afghanistan. The think thanks had a severe shortage of Afghanistan experts. This disengagement and the resultant depletion of knowledge repository were very costly – – for both the Afghans and our friends. We have been playing catch up ever since. Now we have a different problem: all of a sudden so many Afghan experts have sprung up that the joke around Kabul is ‘come for a two week visit and go back an Afghan expert’.

Finally, one of the most important reasons for the resurgence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda is that financing, training and support for them come almost entirely from outside the country, from Pakistan, and are therefore beyond the control of our friends in the war on terror and Operation Enduring Freedom. The assertion that the Taliban are rural, illiterate young Afghan Pashtun men who spontaneously join the Taliban and Al-Qaeda is far from the truth. These skirmishes utilize expensive and extensive heavy armament and are carefully planned and skillfully executed. This level of sophistication is a sure indication that they are trained, supplied and supported from the outside; it is not readily available inside Afghanistan. This kind of assertion also implies that our international friends are allowing the Taliban and Al Qaeda have their training camps and arms depots inside Afghanistan. No one in Afghanistan believes this; we know it is utter non-sensical propaganda. Especially, we know that the Pashtuns of Afghanistan are not Talib. Their culture, their values and their religion are very different than what the Taliban and Al-Qaeda profess. There are some that are actively recruited by the Taliban, but as a people they are not Talib. I am convinced that without this outside support, we will have no Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan – – and for that matter in the world.

C. The Reconstruction Situation

The reconstruction agenda in Afghanistan includes many thousands of projects, from very small civil society efforts to very large public projects, more or less around the whole country. However, no one is happy about it. Every one from the farmer to the porter in the street, from the bureaucrat to the intellectual, from the mullah to the housewife, has a complaint about it and thinks it has failed him or her. The perception is that it has neither delivered the desired result nor has it brought a perceptible change to every day life of each Afghan.

The reasons are multiple. For one thing, nation building, the rehabilitation of Afghanistan from the ashes of war started late. This has been well documented and I do not need to go into details here. For far too long (in this situation) we lagged behind the curve; the level of reconstruction was not in sync with people’s euphoria and expectations of peace time.

For another, the depth of destruction was not fully understood: We did not appreciate it that two decades of war destroyed much more than the infrastructure. When you do not see a single newspaper for two decades, you develop a different mentality, a different routine of life, and a different set of skills. When you have not had a 9 to 5 job for more than two decades (or never had a job), you do not understand that work begins at 9 am. You do not realize that there is an office culture of standard operating procedures, number of leave and sick days, etc. When you have not read or written anything for two decades you forget to have a pencil sharpener, or to organize your thoughts before you write. When you have not had an opportunity to lay bricks for two decades, you forget where to get the right dirt to make good bricks, and much more how to construct a building and what is the role of an engineer or an architect in the process. In late 2002, when reconstruction was supposed to start in earnest, no one had thought through this level of destruction and what process and how much money was needed to alleviate it. It is almost like post-modern world met pre-industrial revolution Afghanistan; the two worldviews and the two realities were worlds apart.

Another reason for the lack of robust reconstruction is that at the outset the globalization philosophy was put ahead of Afghan needs. Some things that would create immediate connection to the outside world were given higher priority over those things that would have brought immediate relief to the Afghans, such as electricity and agriculture. Connecting Afghanistan to the outside world is much needed but attending to the immediate needs of Afghans inside the country would have given an infinite psychological deterrence.

I also think that too much of the reconstruction money went to non-Afghans. In the dynamic cycle of reconstruction, Afghans often see only the end product and not the fruits of the steps in the process. Not only Afghan engineers (from abroad and inside the country) were looked over in favor of non-Afghans but contracts to supply some of the foreign missions with simple needs, say for example daily fruit and vegetables, also went to other countries (including Pakistan). This resulted in Afghans not feeling the ownership of reconstruction; on the contrary they have now come to believe that it is for the benefit of others.

Poor oversight and accountability as well as lack of knowledge of project management also contributed to reconstruction problems. No one in Afghanistan knows how many civil servants or teachers there are in the country. No one can tell you how much money has actually come. So many different sources are in charge of the status of a project that to find who actually makes a decision or what actually went wrong has become an impossible task and creates confusion and alarm rather than peace of mind.

D. What To Do

The situation in Afghanistan is critical but it is also still ours to lose or win. In my view there are a few things that would help make it a success. First and foremost, the most important aspect is for the international community to stay in Afghanistan. Any sign of draw-down or unwillingness to fight will result in Afghanistan falling back into the hands of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Our enemies are saying there is an occupation of Afghanistan. That must be responded to very clearly. Afghans themselves do not believe that they are occupied, but rather are given help in their hour of need. Any comparison to the Soviet troops must be countered firmly.

Secondly, we must have a couple of clear-cut, public wins. This will help tremendously in increasing the morale among those fighting the war on terror especially the populace, and decreasing it among the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Third, we must find effective ways of curbing Pakistani sympathies for the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and extremism. The consensus in the world now is that the origination point is Pakistan. While a confrontational strategy may not be feasible, there are ways, I believe that this can be countered. For one thing, we must provide correct information about each other’s country to our peoples. I am so surprised that on the two occasions I have been in Pakistan, I hear so much incorrect information about Afghans (people tell me you ought to include Pashtuns in the government; they think Hamid Karzai is a Tajik not a Pashtun, or that non-Pashtuns of Afghanistan hate Pakistan, etc.). The captured Taliban also have talked about incorrect knowledge about Afghans (they have said they were surprised to find Muslims in Afghanistan. They thought everyone was an infidel.)

I believe that having information disseminated via television and radio programs to Pakistan, especially, the border areas would really help. This should not be all news pieces but rather about who Afghans are and what Afghanistan looks like today.

Institutional, public education must be emphasized over madrassah. There are about sixty million illiterate people in Pakistan. The state of Pakistan should be encouraged to make every effort to make public, regular schools available to these people. This way the lure of the madrassah is curtailed and education is increased.

In Afghanistan, we must reach out to our Pashtun citizens. In the last three years, we have been cut off from them; as if they are different than the rest of Afghanistan. No, we have to make every effort to bring them into the fold. We have to tell them that they are part of us, the Afghan nation; they are our brothers and sisters. The contact level must increase. More people, more seminars, more trades must happen between the Pashtun belt and the rest of Afghanistan. We must know what all parts of Afghanistan is going through; what reconstruction and peace have done in some areas and what skirmishes and school burnings have done in others.

The Durand line issue must be resolved. Keeping the issue quiet is making people nervous and believing that even if we solve the resurgence, we will still have to go through the border issue.

The Pakistan-Afghan border must be monitored closely. Some reports suggest that every day about 4,000 motorcycles pass through the border to Afghanistan. Only a few of these are checked by border guards. The price of a pass is as little as two dollars, many actually do not pay. According to Imtiaz Gul, a Pakistani researcher, over 11,000 people mostly without documents and/or visas pass through the border every day (multiply it by 30*12 to get the annual figure). Obviously this creates so many opportunities. Pakistan has a long border with India also. But it is secure and such freedoms do not occur there. The Pakistan-Afghan border must also be as secure as the Pakistan-India border.

In Pakistan and Afghanistan alike, we must not allow the Taliban to be the focus of our relationship. We have too many other mutual interests to allow one issue, a questionable political issue at that (at least from the point of view of most Afghans), to derail the potential gains of a healthy relationship. The time of colonialism when subjugation was the only means of communication is gone. Now there are many other healthy ways to have a relationship. We also know that every country has a right to exist and that strength of a country depends on the strength of its neighbors.

Another important way to alleviate the problem is that we must give social legitimacy to modernity. I define modernity as updating one’s own way of life, values and traditions to respond properly to the requirements and conditions of today. Too many people in Afghanistan think that modernity is the same as copying the west, which to them means giving up their own identity and values. The truth is that all societies and cultures are always in motion and align their way of life to what is needed today. For example, in the old days education was considered an urban upper class phenomenon. The reality is that today a tribal person, a villager, a farmer or a housewife also needs an education. In the old days, during Ramazan, we used to start the fast by a special group hollering in the streets to wake people up to eat their first meal. Now we use alarm clocks in our homes.

Holding tribal people hostage to the so-called ‘their’ way of life, so-called ‘their’ traditions, so-called ‘their’ values is really cramping these tribal people. Not only they think others expect them to remain the same as in the 19th century, but they also feel that this situation is making them very vulnerable. In Afghanistan, many Pashtuns of the border areas have talked to me about how much they desire to become modern, to have schools for their boys and girls, to have banks, clinics, doctors, midwives, paved roads, flood controlling bridges, electricity, libraries, movie houses, what have you. They have complained that they are viewed as being against these things and so in dealing with the outside world they reflect what is expected of them since they cannot shake this perception from their interlocutors. They are tired of this situation. They want to be treated as people who want to update their way of life and not remain in the 19th century mode of living. They have told me ‘Doesn’t the world know that we respect our women and it is our women who work our fields and forests and tend to our animals’. In this regard, this means that we must also give social legitimacy to women’s role in society in these border areas.

Another piece of the solution for me is to seek and promote moderate philosophies of Islam. I think since 9/11 the world community is stumped vis-a-vis Islam. The world behaves as if the only correct Islam is that of the extremists. There is no retort and come-back to the extremists that the majority of the Muslims of the world are the so called moderate Muslims and they are valid, legitimate Muslims. By inattention and silence in this area we have been conveying the message that only extremists are legitimate Muslims. Especially in Afghanistan, during all these years of Jihad against the Soviets and Resistance against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, most people are for some kind of moderate philosophy of Islam. The failure of the international community to give legitimacy to these has left the non-verbal message that what counts is the extremist philosophy. No moderate philosophy of Islam calls for the killing of innocent people, or capturing people who work for a living in an NGO as traitors, or burning of a school where innocent children are getting an education. None of the moderate philosophies of Islam considers these as legitimate for the way of God.

In addition, we must seek ways to separate the Taliban and drug money coming from poppy cultivation. Although other sources of funding exist for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda this source is internal to Afghanistan and we have some control over it. Maybe we should even encourage the channeling of this money for reconstruction. I have heard that the female workers of the poppy fields generally keep their earnings to buy cars and build homes. Such people are less willing to part with their money.

One final way to curtail the crisis is a lesson from the recent past. One of the quietest days in Afghanistan since 2001 was the day of the presidential elections. On such a momentous day, there was hardly any enemy activity. I think analysts must review what steps were taken to achieve that level of military peace on that day and institute them so that everyday is the same way.

On the reconstruction front, there are some things that must be done: One, we must continue the reconstruction effort in the affected areas, no matter what. In this regard, Afghan Pashtuns from inside and outside Afghanistan are good candidates to do the job. We should encourage those Pashtuns outside Afghanistan, especially those with the western know how to establish projects in the Pashtun belt because these people don’t have a history of war with the locals and are more likely to treat everyone fairly, a requirement of the situation. This also alleviates the fact that Pashtuns in the diaspora are regarded by many people in the Pashtun belt as having lost contact with their roots and cannot represent the Pashtun belt.

The government of Afghanistan and the donor community must increase the delivery of well being in Afghanistan and try to bring it to the level of the family, the most important social institution of the country. After 2001 and the promises of reconstruction, now most Afghans still feel powerless. This feeling of lack of control in their every day life creates disillusionment and makes them more vulnerable; they do not feel free.

One way to quickly and robustly attend to this is to put the emphasis on agriculture. Most of Afghanistan has enough water and arable land – – and has a ready-made human capacity with five thousand years of experience – – to become self-sufficient in food production within a fairly short time, or so the Afghan experts tell me. So many Afghans have indicated to me that they feel totally useless and ashamed that Afghanistan imports even cucumbers and tomatoes from outside the country. They take these as the yardstick of success in reconstruction. The donor community, Afghan or other experts, is always telling me that we must first modernize the agriculture sector. Well, I think we should first get the agriculture sector completely going and then modernize it as time and products permit. This to me is one of the most important ways of countering the insurgency; giving the most important moral – – and material – – boost to collective Afghanistan. This might mean that we forego some of the requirements of modernization (creating a modern system of agriculture), or of globalization (developing a cash crop for Afghanistan), in favor of an overall, primary and strategic dividend. I cannot emphasize it enough and do not understand why it has not yet been done.

Providing electricity is another example of delivery of well being to each household. We are waiting for expensive dams to be built in ten years, while in reality other sources and other technologies are nowadays so available around the world that it is fairly easy to augment quickly the delivery of electricity to say 50% of households (as opposed to 15% now). This technology is available even inside Afghanistan; in the Rustaq area of Takhar I have seen home grown tiny micro-hydro generators over tiny streams where each generator provides electricity to about 19 homes. I am also told that the Pashtun belt uses a lot of solar energy. Why not extend these to cover the entire Pashtun belt? How much more expensive would this be to daily skirmishes or even one school burning? The freedom, ease of daily and nightly life as well as the increase in personal security that this creates is immeasurable, which in turn creates the local population’s individual stake in upholding security.

We must also start to use local materials and local knowledge instead of importing everything from abroad. For example, there was a report that one foreign NGO spent a lot of money and time researching in a faraway land how to incorporate earthquake resistance into buildings in Afghanistan. Actually they could have talked to the locals and/or come to Islamabad where I see that the recent awful earthquake did not do that much damage to the city homes – – which would have taken less time and less money. Using as much of the local know-how and materials creates more readily-available accountability and a sense of ownership, the idea that reconstruction is ‘for us, by us’.

In closing, I believe that paying attention to these areas will result in success for Afghanistan. They will help neutralize the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and extremism. Afghans will be more empowered for durable peace and prosperity. The non-Afghans, our friends in the international community will have more security inside their own countries. No more 9/11’s. Amen and Insha’allah!